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Two face federal charges in hourslong carjacking ordeal across Twin Cities



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Two men are facing federal carjacking charges a month after allegedly driving a victim around the Twin Cities in his own car, trying to drain his bank accounts and threatening to kill him in the process.

A federal judge on Tuesday unsealed carjacking charges against Jamal Timothy Funchess, 18, and T’Shawn Teon Palton, 21, that accuse them of carrying out the Feb. 14 kidnapping in Columbia Heights of a man who told police he was ordered into the back seat of his car at gunpoint during what he thought was a meetup to buy a cellphone via Facebook Marketplace.

The case is the latest in an ongoing campaign by US Attorney Andrew Luger to charge all carjacking cases involving adults as federal felonies that carry tougher possible sentences.

According to an affidavit from an FBI agent, a third male was picked up nearby after the victim, referred to as SS, was ordered at gunpoint into the back seat of his Kia Optima. The three alternated holding the gun and pointing it at SS over the next several hours, according to charges, while demanding his banking information and forcing him to turn over his cellphone, wallet and credit cards. SS also reported being struck in the face with the gun.

They attempted to withdraw money from gas stations in north Minneapolis and St. Paul while using his cards and unsuccessfully tried to drain money from his Cash App, Venmo and Paypal accounts.

Eventually, SS later told police, the suspects tried to transfer more than $3,000 to an account using the cash transfer application Zelle but ultimately canceled the transaction.

According to the complaint, the assailants openly talked about killing SS as they discussed what to do with him. But they later dropped him off on a road in St. Paul and left with his car as he ran to a Holiday gas station in Lilydale to call the police.

Later that evening, SS helped law enforcement track down his phone using the “Find My iPhone” feature on a computer, watching the phone locator stop at an Embassy Suites hotel in Bloomington. Police there located the Optima in the lot and were told that the phone locator indicated that it was inside the hotel.

Hotel staff described seeing a group of three men matching the descriptions provided by SS, and also identified a woman with the group. The woman first claimed to be staying with a group of three people who denied knowing her. A juvenile in a ski mask who matched the description of SS’s assailants soon approached officers and said he was with her. Police found a loaded .38 caliber revolver in his pants and later found that he was wearing SS’s Apple watch after they arrested him.

Officers in the parking lot arrested Palton after a brief foot pursuit outside, finding SS’s wallet along the path of Palton’s flight. Funchess was found in the front seat of another car in the parking lot and was detained after an officer noticed him wearing a ski mask similar to that of the juvenile suspect.

Funchess initially told police that he was with the other two and they were waiting to meet someone to sell a video game. He later said he had been trying to sell a phone but claimed that the buyer never showed, and denied ever being inside SS’s vehicle.

Detectives obtained warrants to search the three suspects’ phones and accessed Funchess’ phone after entering his birthday as the passcode. They found photographs of SS’s phone screen, the steering wheel of a Kia and video of the inside of a Kia — all of which were taken at the time of the alleged kidnapping.

They also found web searches for how to take money off a credit card, and “how to reset apple watch” in addition to Facebook Messenger exchanges with SS in which they appeared to coordinate a meeting. The suspects’ attempts to withdraw money at ATMs were also allegedly captured on gas station surveillance videos.

Both men made their first court appearances in Minneapolis on Tuesday and remain in custody ahead of a Thursday detention hearing.

Two face federal charges in hourslong carjacking ordeal across Twin Cities

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