Four Arizona men are facing multiple charges in connection with a massive fraud scheme involving the trafficking of stolen iPhones and other electronics to overseas buyers, according to Maricopa County Superior Court records.
Two of the men, Michael Stoian, 25, and Arik Tasa-Bennett, 24, both of Scottsdale, are being held in a Maricopa County jail with bond set at $1 million each as they face charges stemming from overseeing the scheme, which involved a series of companies set up to conduct the transactions.
An informant who had known of the illegal activity since 2015 alerted the Arizona Department of Public Safety about the illegal enterprise, according to records, which include probable-cause statements submitted to court after the men’s arrests on Oct. 18.
According to investigators, Stoian and Tasa-Bennett would purchase the stolen electronics from others who would use stolen identities to purchase items from the “Dark Web,” a reference to websites that exist on an encrypted network that can’t be found using traditional search engines, which help hide the identities of those who operate them.
The stolen IDs were used to purchase numerous Apple products, including iPhones, watches, iPods and computers.
Following the purchase of the stolen goods, Stoian and Tasa-Bennett would sell the products overseas using several limited-liability corporations listed in their name as members or managers, among them Titanium Tech, Shooterz LLC, Cash Panda LLC, and Tech Liquidators LLC, court documents said. Several of the companies list addresses in Tempe or Scottsdale.
According to court documents, investigators gathered evidence to support the claims of the informant by seizing cellphones and using other surveillance techniques to observe Stoian and Tasa-Bennett meeting co-conspirators in parking lots to conduct the transactions.
During the investigation, two other men were arrested and accused of conspiring with Stoian and Tasa-Bennett. They were identified in court records as Abdallah Hamdan, 40, of Scottsdale, and Brett Pinar, 22, of Phoenix.
Hamdan was identified as a regular supplier of stolen items who would be seen meeting with Stoian several times a week, sometimes several times a day, by investigators, according to court documents.
Investigators observed Pinar picking up several large shipments of electronic devices that had been shipped to Mobile Tech Buyback, one of Stoian and Tasa-Bennett’s LLCs, court records state. Investigators also discovered Pinar held a P.O. box that received the shipments for Stoian and Tasa-Bennett, court records state.
Investigators from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office subpoenaed bank documents from Titanium Tech, after they learned of suspicious transactions, wire transfers and source of funds.
The records indicated deposits in large amounts for a six-month period from April 2017 to October 2017. Records also indicated multiple cash withdrawals by Stoian and Tasa-Bennett, court documents said.
The court documents do not specify how much money the men are accused of making from the transactions and depositing into their accounts.
On Oct. 17 of this year, authorities served multiple search warrants at different locations, court records state.
They seized four vehicles, about 550 cellphones, two iPods, 25 iPads, three AirPods, 13 Apple watches, 17 computers, eight guns, about $124,000 and several bank accounts, according to court records. The court records did not specify whether all 550 seized phones were iPhones or included others, or whether all of the computers were Apple products.
According to court documents, Stoian was arrested and booked on 27 counts of trafficking in stolen property and one count each of money laundering, conspiracy, fraud, illegal control of an enterprise and participating in a criminal syndicate. Investigators believe he was the ringleader of the scheme, court records said.
Tasa-Bennett and Pinar were arrested and booked on one count each of fraud, conspiracy, trafficking stolen property in the first degree, illegal control of an enterprise, money laundering, and assisting in a criminal syndicate, court records said.
Hamdan was arrested and booked on one count each of fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, trafficking stolen property, illegal control of an enterprise, and participating in a criminal syndicate, court records said.
Stoian and Tasa-Bennett each have their next court hearing scheduled for Oct. 29. Hamdan and Pinar are scheduled for hearings on Nov. 7.