Police Seize Trove of Suspected Stolen Cellphones Inside South Seattle Shop

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Inside a South Seattle convenience store Thursday morning, surrounded by shelves lined with tubs of coriander, diapers, and bottles of olive oil, South Precinct detectives loaded up boxes and boxes of suspected stolen cellphones, laptops and cameras after serving a warrant at the shop.

Police received information earlier in the week that the small, cluttered store – tucked away on a busy street near Rainier Beach – was “fencing,” or buying and selling electronics, stolen in a rash of robberies in the neighborhood.

When robberies rose in South Seattle toward the end of summer—a trend identified during SPD’s SeaStat process and echoed at community meetings—SPD’s South Precinct commanders focused extra officers on foot beats and bike patrols in the hardest hit areas. With the added patrols, muggings in the emphasis areas dropped, and police began working to find where all those stolen electronics ended up.

Those efforts paid off when a team of South Precinct detectives and officers walked into the store with a warrant Thursday and found the trove of stolen goods. They arrested the 48-year-old shop owner for trafficking stolen property. Detectives requested that the location not be disclosed as they continue their investigation.

“It’s pretty bad, the number of phones we found here,” said South Precinct burglary/theft Sergeant Steve Daman, standing behind the store’s cluttered counter.

As one detective piled laptops and tablets on a small table in the middle of the shop, Sgt. Daman nodded toward a dimly lit hallway on the northeast corner of the store. “That’s just part of it. That back room’s full of more.”

The hallway led past a dingy bathroom to a small office, stuffed with brand new clothes, shoes and bed spreads still in their packaging. In another room, a pile of bicycles sat next an inoperative industrial refrigerator.

Along with the more than 250 smartphones and hundreds of cameras, computers, watches and instruments found in the store – a number of which Robbery Detectives have already tied to crimes in Rainier Beach – detectives also found $13,000 in cash, boxes of untaxed cigarettes illegally imported from Vietnam, and cabinets filled with bags of Khat (a plant leaf stimulant classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule-1 controlled substance).

“This is a great example of patrol officers catching suspects, getting information and working with detectives to find where these stolen goods are going,” says South Precinct Captain Dave Proudfoot. “This sends a message to those who would victimize our community that this isn’t acceptable.”

“Our officers are working hard find individuals and businesses driving the crimes hurting our communities,” SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole said. “We’re going to go after anyone creating the market for stolen goods.”

Detectives are still sorting through the hundreds of items seized from the business and working with SPD’s Robbery Unit to connect the suspected stolen electronics to open cases.

The 48-year-old shop owner remains in custody at the King County Jail awaiting arraignment.