PAW PAW, Mich. — Multiple law enforcement agencies are working to identify suspects in a string of violent robberies at cell phone stores across West Michigan.
The regional manager for an independently-owned AT&T franchise said a group of four people have been able to get away with more than $100,000 in stolen devices and cash for two of their stores. They have also attempted to rob multiple others.
It has been a string of violent robberies in west Michigan that started the day before the new iPhone was released on October 22.
The regional manager said four people smashed a window at their Kentwood location but failed to gain access to inventory and left.
The next day, the same group of suspects tried the Paw Paw location and were successful.
"What happened there is we had four people I believe that rushed into the store right before close on the iPhone launch day. They took our employee into the back room and forced him to open the inventory room up. Then they took a bunch of product and ran out our back door," said the Master Wireless AT&T Authorized Retailer's Regional Manager Kris Keith.
Security footage shows the group of people inside the store taking off with over $60,000 in electronics after they told the employee they had a gun.
"Immediately after the robbery we changed some of our security policies. We started locking our doors and letting only one person in at a time and things like that. That worked for us for about a week. We had a couple of robberies that were thwarted. They would try to pull on the door, realized that it was locked, and they would run off," said Keith.
On Monday, Keith said there was a robbery attempt at their store in Grand Haven, but it was unsuccessful. The suspects reportedly left that location and drove straight to the Walker location, where they were able to escape with around $40,000 to $50,000 in both devices and cash.
"They sent someone to the front door to pose as a customer. Our employee went up to talk to the customer and cracked the door open. That was when three other people kind of rushed the door. They pried it open. He tried to keep it closed. They pried it open. They went into the back, and they got physical with him. They put him in a choke hold and forced him to open the safe and took a bunch of phones there," said Keith.
Police told Keith that the robberies have been happening at other phone stores as well. The phone often ending up for sale on places like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
"We report the information to AT&T asset protection and various channels. Those phones end up getting blacklisted. They are put on a lost and stolen list. So those phones are not able to be activated on American carriers," said Keith.
Anyone who recognizes the people in the surveillance video, has purchased a phone that cannot be activated or has any information is asked to contact their local police department.