2 plead guilty to charges in Minneapolis phone theft ring

Thursday morning, two men entered guilty pleas to a charge filed against them for their alleged involvement in a downtown Minneapolis cellphone theft ring.

Aaron Tracey Johnson, 26, and Antonio Tramaine Green, 19, both of St. Paul, each entered a guilty plea in Hennepin County court to one count of racketeering.

Johnson and Green were two of 12 people charged with racketeering in connection to the ring, which prosecutors say operated for more than a year and allegedly victimized more than 40 people as they left bars in the area at the time of bar close.

Thursday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office called Johnson a “key leader” of the ring and added during the court hearing he “implicated several other top members of the ring.”

According to the Attorney’s Office, a plea agreement calls for Johnson to serve 94 months (7.8 years) in prison.

Johnson’s sentencing hearing is slated for March 7, while Green’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 11. The racketeering charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison, a fine of three times the gross value gained during the operation, as well as other costs.

“This sophisticated operation targeted unsuspecting victims enjoying a night out and contributed to instilling a culture of fear that threatens the vibrancy of our community. I am grateful for the groundbreaking and extensive investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that investigated these cases and the highly skilled team in our office that partnered closely with law enforcement and is prosecuting them,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty in a prepared statement on Thursday.

Prosecutors allege some phones were taken by force, and authorities say the suspects would make sure the victim unlocked a phone before taking it so money could be moved from accounts using services such as Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase.

RELATED: Cellphone theft scheme shows dangers of unsecured devices, finance apps

The suspects allegedly funneled phones to a man identified as Zhongshuang Su, nicknamed “the iPhone Man,” who would then sell the phones. Authorities state more than four dozen phones were sent to Hong Kong and more than two dozen other phones were sent to Su’s employer.

RELATED: ‘iPhone man’ charged in phone theft ring appears in court; 3 co-defendants arrested

Six of the 12 suspects — Lawrence Miles, Emarion White, Sherrod Lamar, David Mullins, Sharlotte Green and Charlie Pryor — are still wanted.

Three others have upcoming court hearings: Heiron Birts has a hearing scheduled for April 3, Charlie Pryor Jr. has a jury trial scheduled to begin in September and Su, the alleged ringleader, has a hearing scheduled for April 17 and a jury trial in June.

In December, Alfonze Stuckey was sentenced to just shy of five years in prison for his role in the ring.