Azmi Elqutob never had a chance to hand over the money. The 66-year-old was behind the register at his Smokie's Food Store, his family's Fort Worth bodega, when Frederick Jones rushed in with a 9 mm pistol and a bandana over his face and fired twice. Jones grabbed a fistful of cash from the register, then fired two more rounds into Elqutob's prone body. He later used the money to buy cocaine. He's currently serving a life sentence.
The murder, senseless as it was, didn't derail the criminal investigation into Elqutob then being conducted by Tarrant County prosecutors and the U.S. Secret Service. They simply shifted their full attention to his son Rashad Elqutob, who used to work for AT&T.
The case had begun two years earlier after RadioShack and AT&T each contacted the Secret Service to report the disappearance of a large quantity of cell phones. A subsequent search of the home of the elder Elqutob turned up more than 1,000 phones, while 35 were found at his son's residence. All were stolen.
Investigators eventually pieced together that the father-son team was running a cell phone theft ring in which employees at AT&T, RadioShack, and New Breed Verizon would steal handsets and sell them to the Elqutobs for 10 percent of their retail value. The Elqutobs would then sell the phones on eBay or Craigslist or via online companies the son created like Dealmaker, Reemsale, or Wireless World Warehouse.
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The scheme brought in nearly half a million dollars per year. Nor did his arrest in March 2012 and subsequent criminal charge persuade him to stop. He admitted during his trial this week that he was continuing to sell phones online.
On Wednesday, a Tarrant County jury sentenced the younger Elqutob to 10 years in prison on theft and organized crime charges and ordered him to pay $280,000 in restitution. And prosecutor Lori Burks got to pose next to 800 seized cell phones and make a heroic declaration that justice was served.
"This case is about American greed," Burks says in a press release. "Elqutob came to this country with nothing, got a great education, and had a great job, but it wasn't enough. He became the CEO of his own criminal enterprise and used his knowledge of the cell phone industry to exploit weaknesses and make millions."