Aug. 14--FORT LAUDERDALE -- Six Apple store employees at the Galleria mall are accused of teaming up to defraud the store out of nearly 600 iPhones worth an estimated half-million dollars, police said Wednesday.
Detectives began investigating the thefts this year when a regional loss-prevention manager for Apple notified Fort Lauderdale police about the group of employees.
How did the scheme work? Since April, thieves who posed as customers at the store handed stolen iPhones to employees in the ring and exchanged them for new iPhones, police said. Each Apple employee in the ring was paid between $45 and $75 for carrying out a fraudulent transaction, police said.
A seventh person, Best Buy Mobile employee Sean Flynn, 25, of Davie, provided serial numbers from cellphones at Best Buy Mobile. Part of the scheme hinged on Apple employees using that information to assign cellphone serial numbers to the new iPhones at the Apple store, police said.
Devon Persad, 26, of Tamarac, was identified as the ringleader who hosted big dinners to recruit fellow Apple store employees, bragging about the new 2014 Lexus he bought and the home loan he paid off, according to the arrest warrants.
But at Persad's bond hearing Wednesday, his mother said she was helping pay for her son's living expenses, on her house cleaner's income. She said she paid the $750 monthly cost of the lease and car insurance for the Lexus and that her son lived in a rented apartment with his girlfriend.
The judge set Persad's bond at $450,000, concerned that the native of Trinidad and Tobago may leave the United States.
In addition to Persad and Flynn, Daniel Michael Scotti, 44, and Adam Alvarez, 24, both of Fort Lauderdale, Anthony Joseph Tranchida, 22, of Plantation, and Sadia A. Dandia, 28, of Southwest Ranches, have been arrested.
Apple employee Otis Jerrell Ferguson, 37, of Miramar, still was being sought by police late Wednesday.
All are facing charges of obtaining property over $50,000 by fraud, grand theft and organized dealing in stolen property, jail records showed.
There are many other people in the ring who haven't been identified, Detective DeAnna Greenlaw said.
"We don't know who those individuals were who brought those [stolen] phones in," she said. "And we don't know who the phones were sold to once the exchange took place."
Greenlaw said detectives are trying to find all the pieces to the puzzle.
"It's such a hornet's nest, you're not sure where exactly to attack it," she said.
Scotti's wife, Carolina Scotti, appeared at his bond hearing Wednesday to tell Broward Judge John Hurley that health concerns were the motivation for her husband's actions.
"I'm not justifying what he did because I know for a fact it was against the law," she said. "I know he did it because he was desperate [since] he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease."
The new iPhones most likely are being sold abroad, a Broward prosecutor said.
The stolen iPhones handed in at the Apple store in Fort Lauderdale were sent by the store to Apple in California, where the company realized something was wrong, officials said.
Meanwhile, some Best Buy Mobile customers who bought iPhones at the Sunrise store where Flynn worked discovered their new phones did not work because their legitimate cellphone serial numbers had been used to activate iPhones at the Apple store, Greenlaw said.
Fort Lauderdale police ask anyone with information on the whereabouts of Otis Ferguson or with information about these incidents to contact Detective Scott Moseley at 954-828-5531, Detective Scott Hoffer at 954-828-5530 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477.
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