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Man who hired homeless to get new iPhones resells them abroad

A man who hired homeless people to stand in line overnight at the Pasadena Apple store for the new iPhone 5s and 5c said he resells the phones at a higher profit overseas.

Dozens of people picked up on skid row were left stranded Friday morning after the man, who declined to give media his name, was escorted from the store by police after a scuffle broke out.

The man said his company resells the phones abroad for more than $1,000 each. He told CBS LA he pays the people he hires $20 per phone voucher and provides them with food and cigarettes while they wait in line.

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“It’s not illegal, it’s not against the law to buy them. I’m buying them at full retail price,” he said.

The store caught on to the man and capped his purchases, according to CBS LA. When he exited about 9 a.m. with several bags in his hands, the crowd waiting outside got unruly. People who were in line and hired by the man began fighting with him because they said they weren’t being paid, said Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson.

Police escorted him away and drove him to his car so the crowd wouldn’t chase him, he said. The man’s name is not being released because no crime occurred, and Pasadena police are not investigating the incident, Clawson said.

"It's not a police issue. It's a business issue," he said.

Dominoe Moody, 43, said he was taken to Pasadena from a downtown Los Angeles homeless mission with several vanloads of people to wait in line overnight for the latest iPhone.

“It didn’t go right. I stood out here all night,” he said, adding that he has no way to get home.

Moody was promised $40 for his two phones, but like most people, was never paid by the man, he said, estimating that 70 to 80 were recruited and driven to the store to wait in line.

“They need to bring him back ... to pick up the people that he brought here,” said Vivian Fields, 49. “We have no way to get home.”

Fields, who is in a wheelchair, said she was approached by recruiters at a homeless shelter on skid row and arrived in Pasadena on Thursday about 7 p.m. She waited overnight at the store.

Clawson estimated that at least 200 people were outside of the store Friday morning waiting for it to open. The store hired two Pasadena police officers to keep control of the crowd, he said.

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Police arrested George Westbrook, 23, of Compton and Lamar Mitchell, 43, of Pasadena for fighting in line outside of the store in an unrelated incident around 7:30 a.m., he said. A man was taken to the hospital for mental evaluation around 9 a.m., he said.

Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on skid row, said several scams that take advantage of the homeless have come up with recent years -- including medical fraud, in which people are driven to hospitals to run up bills, then dumped back on skid row, and EBT card schemes.

“It’s thoughtless greed,” he said. “How in the world could you tolerate yourself after taking advantage of somebody who’s at the end of the rope. It’s unbelievable.”

When these situations come up, the mission reaches out to its visitors and warns them to be cautious of deals that seem "too good to be true", said Bales, who hadn’t heard of the iPhone incident.

“It’s not enough to be homeless, then you have people preying on your situation,” he said.

The newest edition of Apple’s iconic phone is being released in various colors, including gold. Consumers also have the option of buying a less-expensive version with a plastic case. For the first time ever, the devices are being released in China on the same day they were made available everywhere else.

As in past iPhone releases, it appears some people are paying others to wait in line to buy the devices so they can be resold later for a profit.

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Twitter: @Sam_Schaefer

Samantha.Schaefer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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