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$100,000 in suspicious iPhones seized on their way to Moscow

$100,000 in suspicious iPhones seized on their way to Moscow

When Yulia Radochinskaya landed at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport from Moscow on Dec. 26, she told US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers she was in town to buy a cellphone and laptop.

Radochinskaya said she worked for an airline, and that she would be staying in the country for three days. But flight manifests showed Radochinskaya—a LinkedIn profile in her name says she is a flight attendant for a now-defunct Russian airline—was in fact scheduled to fly back to Russia from Newark International Airport, across the Hudson River in New Jersey, later the same day.

CBP stopped Radochinskaya at Newark that evening for outbound inspection and allegedly discovered 92 iPhones, worth nearly $100,000, in her carry-on bags.

“Law enforcement has been investigating illegal exports of stolen cellular phones for resale outside of the United States, with the proceeds from sales of the stolen cell phones used to finance international criminal enterprises,” explains a federal complaint charging Radochinskaya with making false statements.

However, Radochinskaya showed officers all the proper export documentation for the phones—required when leaving the country with goods worth more than $2,500—and had an explanation.

After clearing customs at JFK, Radochinskaya said she took a bus to the Port Authority bus terminal near Times Square, the complaint explains. There, she claimed to have met someone she knew only as “Dima,” who put the phones in her hand luggage. Radochinskaya then headed to Newark Airport for her flight back to Russia. She planned to deliver the phones to her mother, a phone reseller in Moscow, she said.

The complaint does not say where or how Dima obtained the phones. Although further details are thin, a rough timeline provided in the complaint suggests Radochinskaya missed her flight due to the extra CBP screening. She booked another flight home from Newark to Moscow for early the following afternoon.

In the meantime, CBP officials ran Radochinskaya’s export paperwork through a law enforcement database and realized the forms she had handed them earlier were fraudulent. Federal agents arrested Radochinskaya when she arrived at the airport the next day, before she could board her flight.