Rayford Newsome of Compton, 22, Tony Tyron Lee Stewart of Highland, 21, and Jerome Gregory Belser of San Bernardino, 20, each face one federal count of obstructing commerce by means of robbery, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court.
The three could be linked to as many as 50 cellphone store robberies throughout the Southland between Nov. 11, 2021, and last Saturday, according to a Los Angeles Police Department detective who wrote the sworn affidavit in the case.
The defendants were arrested on Saturday hours after the heist at the T-Mobile store at 17133 Ventura Blvd. Surveillance and cellphone video of the robbery showed three suspects carrying distinctive looking hammers walking into the store during store hours, smashing display cases and taking Apple iPhones and other merchandise, according to the complaint.
Law enforcement received reports of similar robberies the same day at cellphone stores in Inglewood, Long Beach and Woodland Hills, the complaint states.
Federal prosecutors allege that GPS location data for phones belonging to Newsome and Stewart, and a blue Kia Optima they were arrested in, showed that the phones and the car were in the vicinity of the robberies around the time they occurred.
On Saturday evening, LAPD officers used the tracker on the Kia to track down the car in North Hollywood, according to the complaint. After a short pursuit, Newsome, Stewart, Belser and a juvenile were taken into custody.
Prosecutors allege that Newsome, Belser and the juvenile were wearing clothes similar to those worn by the Encino T-Mobile robbers. Inside the Kia, officers recovered devices with the same serial numbers as the items reported stolen during the Encino robbery, the complaint alleges.
Officers also allegedly recovered hammers that had the same distinctive handle coloring as those used during the Encino T-Mobile robbery, prosecutors said.
The LAPD detective who wrote the affidavit stated that he believes that about 50 other cellphone store robberies “were likely committed by the same group of individuals.”
The charge of obstructing commerce by means of robbery carries a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors noted.
Newsome and Stewart were expected to make their initial federal court appearances Wednesday. Belser has a medical issue preventing his appearance, prosecutors said.