OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — People coming to West Michigan from big cities like Detroit or Chicago may be targeting local cell phone stores to flip the product for large sums of money, officials said Wednesday.
"From out of the area is quite possible," said Captain Mark Bennett with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office. "Whether there's a few of them maybe based in Grand Rapids that are fencing or moving these phones outside of the area is quite likely."
There have been 10 break-ins at West Michigan cell phone stores since Aug. 10, four of which occurred in Ottawa County.
Police do not believe the armed robbery Monday at a Cricket Wireless store in Holland is connected to the other incidents. However, there were similar methods of operation used and outfits worn at some of the break-ins, Bennett said.
"The windows are smashed; the thieves get into the store very quickly and are out very quickly," he said. "In most video evidence it shows under a minute, so that tells us they probably have done a fair amount of recon."
This is not the first time multiple cell phone stores have been hit in West Michigan. In 2014, criminals hit at least 30 West Michigan cell phone stores -- more than 100 statewide -- and sold the products to drug dealers or overseas buyers.
The cell phones can be flipped for a large amount of money if the thief is experienced, Bennett said.
"We probably have some players in this that are recruiting or sending out workers to complete the thefts and get the phones back to the fence where they receive money," he said. "[The orchestrator] has the capability to flip these phones to make them usable or sell them on the black market to unwitting buyers who end up buying the phone that doesn't work."
Authorities in Kent and Ottawa counties are working with the FBI and state law enforcement partners. While there are no concrete subjects, surveillance footage and inter-agency coordination have produced substantial leads, Bennett said.
Police said very little was taken from the T-Mobile store on Lake Michigan Drive in Allendale because the high-end phones were secured in another location during non-business hours.
Anyone with information regarding the identity of any of the suspects, please contact Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.
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