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Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

"Apple picking" is the newest crime du jour in South Florida, perpetrated by gangs looking to steal your smartphone. Some are even willing to kill you for it. Last July 1, two teen boys on bicycles confronted 54 year-old Jerry Wayne Sherrell near NE 2nd Ave. and 54th Street and demanded his phone. When he refused, he was shot and killed by one of the boys. Police quickly apprehended a 16 year-old boy and charged him with Sherrell's murder.

The latest rash in Miami Beach ended last weekend when police arrested 8 young men. But how did these kids rip off so many cell phones and how did their spree come to an end? A closer inspection of police reports reveals that the bad guys may have been tripped-up by sheer stupidity and the clumsiness of their crimes.

See also: iPhone Robberies at Gunpoint on the Rise in Miami Beach

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

Date: Aug. 4, 2013

Time: 6:30 am

Location: Bus stop at 63rd St. and Collins Ave.

Perps: Reynaldo Valenzuela, Miguel Rijo and John Alexander Sanchez-Johnson

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

Maria Alvarez tells cops that while waiting for a bus she was suddenly approached and surrounded by three "dark-skinned Latin males." Alvarez says one of the men pointed a gun at her and said in Spanish, "I am going to kill you, don't move. If you move, you will die quicker."

Alvarez says one of the men patted her down, taking her cell phone, gold earrings and $800 and cash before fleeing on foot.

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

Date: Aug. 11, 2013

Time: 6:16 am

Location: 225 Collins Ave.

Perps: John Alexander Sanchez-Johnson, Miguel Rijo, Reynaldo Valenzuela and Richard Beato Rivas

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

According the police report, Nilde Rivas and Aida Fernandez, two female tourists from Venezuela, who are dressed in workout clothes and who have just parked their car, are accosted by three "black males" brandishing firearms who pin them against the entrance gate of their building. The women told police the men placed the muzzles of the guns in their backs and "demanded cell phones" while patting them down for valuables.

One of the men removes a sports belt one of the women is wearing and rummages through it while his accomplice takes an iPod tucked in her friend's sports bra.

Police learn that the crime may have been caught on the building's surveillance camera.

Total take: An iPod Nano and a sports belt with purse and water bottle holders.

The women tell cops that one of the men had "abnormally large buttocks."

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

Date: Aug. 11, 2013

Time: 6:30 am

Location: 2129 Washington Ave.

Perps: Yoan Acosta-Orta, Miguel Alexander Rijo and John Alexander Sanchez-Johnson

Waseemah Jason and Tai Lowry tell cops that as they got out of a cab at 2129 Washington Ave. in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, they were suddenly approached by "two light-skinned males in their early 20s"

According to the police report, one of the men who's s wearing a hoodie, points a handgun directly at the Jason's face and yells, "Let me have your shit!" While this is going on, his partner forces Lowry to the ground, yanking a purse from her shoulder, breaking the strap. The stuff inside the purse spills out.

The men make their escape running north on Washington before jumping into a silver sports car waiting for them on Dade Blvd.

The men get away with a clutch bag, an iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, a credit card and car keys.

The police report indicates that two of the men arrested for this crime -- Rijo and Sanchez-Johnson - were also involved in the robbery just 14 minutes earlier at 225 Collins Ave.

Inside Miami Beach's "Apple Picking" Ring: How The Smartphone Gang Operated

Date: Aug. 16, 2013

Time: 3:45 am

Location: 22nd St. and Park Ave.

Perps: Francisco Polanco, Yoan Gabriel Acosta-Orta, Estarlyn Jose Maldonado-Sanchez and Carlos Velasquez-Pacheco

Last Aug. 16, Peter Trubetskoy told police he was sitting outside Miami Beach's Club Mokai waiting for a friend when he noticed two young men looking at him from across the street. Trubetskoy then told police that a third man (Acosta-Orta) ran towards him, pointing a gun at him and demanding his cell phone. The men make their escape in a silver Honda.

Acosta-Orta, according to arrest reports, also took part in the robbery five days earlier at 2129 Washington Ave.

Following the arrest of the eight suspects, Miami Beach Police Deputy Chief Mark Overton told WSVN that cell phone thefts are not just a Miami Beach problem.

"It's a nationwide problem," said Overton, adding, "criminals are now seeing these smartphones as the same as cash."

Police spokesman Bobby Hernandez says his department is in the early stages of introducing a campaign aimed at telling Beach residents and visitors how to avoid becoming a victim of cell phone theft.

His tips include avoiding texting and walking, using security code log-ins, and enabling location tracking features, such as Find My iPhone/iPad and Google Places.

As for the 8 men arrested in connection with the August robberies, they've been charged with multiple counts of robbery with a firearm, they're all sitting in jail having been denied bond.

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