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San Diego store owner admits buying, selling cellphones stolen during 2020 robbery spree

Over 19 days in early 2020, a group of men armed with weapons that looked like semiautomatic pistols robbed or attempted to rob employees at 11 mobile phone stores in San Diego, Lemon Grove, National City and Rancho San Diego.

But there was one owner of a local cellphone store who didn’t have to worry about the bandits targeting him — he was the one buying the stolen devices.

That business owner, Adde Munin Adde, pleaded guilty Thursday in a San Diego federal courtroom to three stolen property charges related to the robbery spree, according to prosecutors, who said he also agreed to pay nearly $60,000 in restitution.

Adde was the seventh defendant to plead guilty to charges related to the string of heists, which lasted from Jan. 14 to Feb. 1. Others admitted to playing various roles, from one young man who acted as the getaway driver in one of the holdups to others who admitted carrying out the actual robberies armed with weapons investigators later learned were pellet guns.

Federal prosecutors did not name the store Adde owned, and it was not identified in court records related to the case. But U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said owners of pawn shops and others who sell cellphones, jewelry and other commonly stolen items “should take notice” of Adde’s conviction.

“When you buy stolen merchandise, you create a market for those who obtain the merchandise through violent means,” Grossman said in a news release. “We will prosecute you, along with those who commit the violent crimes.”

Adde’s attorney, Thomas Matthews, said his client had never before been in trouble with the law and “accepted full responsibility of buying and distributing” the stolen phones.

“His poor judgment was due to extreme personal financial hardship caused by the declining market for independently owned mom (and) pop cellphone sales/repair stores … along with his financial obligations providing for his six children,” Matthews told the Union-Tribune in an email. “He is looking forward to putting this behind him.”

According to a sentencing memorandum written by one defendant’s attorney, two of the six men involved in the spree “planned and coordinated the robberies” and were also in charge of fencing the stolen goods to Adde.

The spree started Jan. 14 when a lone armed suspect made off with 25 iPhones from a Verizon Wireless store in Rancho San Diego, according to an indictment and information provided at the time by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Four days later, a member of the crew robbed an employee at another Verizon Wireless store in the College Grove shopping center in San Diego.

The spree continued two days later at a Verizon store on Palm Street in Lemon Grove, according to the indictment. One week later, on Jan. 27, the bandits held up the same Lemon Grove store.

Three days later, the pace intensified.

On Jan. 30 the robbers held up two businesses on the same night in National City — one a Verizon store on Sweetwater Road, the other a Sprint store two miles away on Highland Avenue, according to the indictment. The next night, one of the defendants tried to rob a Verizon store in Hillcrest, but ran away after spotting a dog inside the business, San Diego police said at the time.

Later that same night, they robbed a T-Mobile store about five miles away in the El Cerrito neighborhood, according to the indictment and police. Officers tracked the getaway vehicle to the South Bay that night and arrested three people suspected of taking part in the T-Mobile robbery.

The final heists occurred one night later, on Feb. 1, when two of the men held up a Verizon store in National City and a second Verizon store in Mira Mesa. The indictment reflects the previous night’s arrests, listing only two of the defendants as having played a role in the last robberies.

Five of the robbery defendants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from a little more than two years to 7 ½ years. One of the robbery defendants is awaiting sentencing. Adde is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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