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Task force probes cellphone store break-ins, offenders could face 20 years

More than 20 people have been charged in area cellphone store break-ins, which have occurred throughout the region since early summer.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Break-ins at four Grand Rapids cellphone stores early Wednesday are part of a disturbing trend in which dozens of storefront businesses across the region have been targeted.

Targets include Boost Mobile, Verizon, T-Mobile, Metro PCS and Sprint. Losses are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stolen items range from an LG Aristo 5 valued at $150 to an Apple iPad Pro priced at $1,099.99.

“They're breaking through windows or attempting to break through doors; it's not subtle,’’ Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Dan Adams said. “It's a good profit margin for them, unfortunately.''

Thieves historically have favored businesses clustered along Alpine Avenue NW and 28th Street SE; though other areas are by no means immune. Break-ins and attempted break-ins this year have also touched stores in Lowell, Plainfield Township, Jenison and Holland.

“It’s a moving target any given day,’’ Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said.

And usually, there are several people involved. Some two dozen defendants have been charged with cellphone store break-ins since the summer.

Among them is 19-year-old Kamryn Alexander Ivy. He was arrested following an early August break-in at the T-Mobile store in Lowell. 

It led investigators to an apartment complex in Kentwood, where items stolen from Lowell and Jenison were recovered.

“They still had the security devises attached to them,’’ Kent County Sheriff’s Detective John Tuinhoff testified at a hearing for Ivy, who remains in jail, awaiting trial. 

Offenders may face a 10-year felony.  But a more serious charge of conducting a criminal enterprise is also an option, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

The offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. It is one of the charges facing Ivy.

Becker says the charge is used when several people are involved in an ongoing criminal concern. 

"You're looking at much stiffer penalties for this repeated pattern of criminal activity,’’ he said.

An area task force was recently formed to address the rash of cellphone store break-ins, Becker said. It includes representatives from area police agencies and two assistant prosecutors from his office.

“We have Grand Rapids police, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies all working together because these crimes cross geographical lines,’’ Becker said. “We are giving this a concerted effort.’’

Investigators say stolen phones could end up overseas or may appear in an online marketplace. An iPhone 11 Pro, normally priced at $999.99, might be advertised online for a few hundred dollars.

“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,’’ Adams said. “You'd have to have your service through a provider, and they’re going to say, well, that phone's been stolen or is not activated by the store.

“And essentially that person buys what they think is the iPhone 11, brand new, never used in a case,’’ Adams said. “And it turns out to be a very expensive paper weight.''

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