LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Three Southern California men were charged today in a federal grand jury indictment for allegedly robbing six cellphone stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties during store hours on the same day, using hammers to smash display cases to steal iPhones and other merchandise.
The indictment charges each of the following defendants with one count of conspiracy and six counts of interference with commerce by robbery:
— Tony Tyron Lee Stewart, 21, of Highland
— Rayford Newsome, 23, of Compton
— Jerome Gregory Belser, 20, of San Bernardino.
The defendants are in federal custody with arraignments scheduled for Feb. 10 in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
If convicted of all charges, each defendant would face up to 20 years in federal prison for each count, prosecutors noted.
According to the indictment, on Jan. 15, Newsome drove Stewart and Belser in a blue Kia Optima vehicle to rob T-Mobile stores in Long Beach, Carson, Inglewood, Encino and Camarillo, and an AT&T Wireless store in Woodland Hills.
Stewart and Belser allegedly entered the stores during store hours to commit the robberies while Newsome remained in the car, according to federal prosecutors.
Once inside the stores, Stewart and Belser — while shocked employees and customers stood by — allegedly used hammers to smash display cases and phone displays to steal telephones and other electronics. After stealing the merchandise, Newsome drove Stewart and Belser away from the robbery locations, the indictment alleges.
Law enforcement received reports of similar robberies that same day at cellphone stores. During the evening of the robberies, GPS location data for Stewart’s and Newsome’s phones and the blue Kia Optima showed that the two phones and the car were in the vicinity of the robberies around the time they occurred, according to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint.
That same evening, law enforcement used the tracker on the blue Kia Optima to track down the car in North Hollywood. After a short pursuit, the defendants were found in the blue Kia Optima, the affidavit states. Inside the car, officers recovered the devices reported stolen during the Encino robbery as well as hammers that had the same distinctive handle coloring as those used during that robbery.
The total loss from the six charged robberies was $33,795, according to the indictment.
Law enforcement has linked Stewart, Newsome and Belser to more than 50 cellphone store robberies throughout Southern California, according to the affidavit.