HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Three people are under arrest in connection to a $65 million organized crime and money laundering scheme that has fueled many recent cellphone robberies and thefts in the Houston area, investigators said.
Federal agents and Houston police raided two homes, and a business, simultaneously on Tuesday morning. Two men and a woman were arrested after raids in Richmond and Sugar Land and the New Territory area of Fort Bend County. Law enforcement executed a search warrant at the "We Buy Phones" store on Harwin in Houston, where about 1,900 stolen electronic devices worth almost $1.8 million were recovered, authorities said.
There was a massive law enforcement presence at each location.
"They were all lined up in front of my house. Three marked cars and about 20 unmarked," said Ammar Jabar, a neighbor near the Richmond location. "To see this going on in front of your house, whatever it is. This much law enforcement is obviously worrisome in your neighborhood. I guess you just never know."
The bust, involving Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), FBI, Houston Police Major Offenders Division, and the Harris County District Attorney's Office, targeted organized criminal activity that drove other crimes.
According to federal agents, the store would buy stolen cellphones that were obtained using stolen identities or by robbery and theft, and then turn around and smuggle them overseas for big profits. The ring then laundered the illicit profits, investigators said.
HSI identified the people under arrest as Akber Jesani, 39, Ameena Hirani, 28, and Shamshuddin Dosani, 52. They are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, aggregate theft, and money laundering.
"Organized retail crime is responsible for the theft of between $30-69 billion in consumer goods each year, which inevitably results in the public having to pay higher prices for goods at the register," said HSI Houston Deputy special agent in charge Robert Kurtz. "HSI Houston and HPD are determined to break this vicious cycle by aggressively targeting the criminal networks and sophisticated money laundering schemes that these organizations use to rake in millions on the backs of hardworking consumers. Today's operation was a good example of that grit and determination, but we have much more work to do to root out this complex problem."
HSI and HPD also executed search warrants on 14 bank accounts at eight different financial institutions that are alleged to contain illicit revenue from the scheme. Details on the final amount for the funds seized were not immediately available.
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