LA iPhone scheme results in fistfights

LOS ANGELES — The release of the new iPhone on Friday caused a bustle across the globe. But nowhere, it appears, did the sale of Apple's latest product degenerate the way it did in Los Angeles.

Scores of homeless people, who had been collected on skid row and driven to the Apple store in Pasadena, Calif., were promised $40, cigarettes and fast food to wait in line overnight. Fistfights erupted and police arrested at least two people.

It all started Thursday afternoon along skid row, according to several witnesses, when groups of men were spotted driving around and shouting: "Who wants to make some money?"

By Thursday evening, dozens of homeless had gathered near the Midnight Mission on San Pedro Street. Groups of them were loaded into cars — just a handful at a time at first, then larger groups in vans.

They were driven to the Apple store in Pasadena. There, a businessman promised to pay them to wait in line for the maximum two vouchers for the iPhone 5s and 5c. Before long, they rounded out a significant portion of the crowd waiting for the store to open Friday morning, according to the Pasadena police, witnesses and several homeless people involved.

When the doors finally opened, the deal seemed to fall apart. According to various accounts, the businessman — who refused to identify himself but said he planned to resell the phones overseas at a large profit — had arranged for the homeless people to be given vouchers enabling them to purchase phones.

"It's not illegal," the man said in a brief interview with TV reporters. "I'm buying them at full retail price."

He had not, however, given them money to actually buy the phones. So when the doors opened, the homeless flooded the store, but most of their vouchers appear to have been useless. A mad scramble ensued. The businessman managed to buy at least a handful of phones before the store told him he was done and ordered him out.

The man then declined to pay the homeless people whose vouchers were not used, witnesses and police said. An exhausted crowd erupted in anger.

"He was cheating us," said Calvin Windell Pleasant, who has lived on skid row for years and said he'd never seen a place as nice as Colorado Boulevard.

The atmosphere got more heated. And police — for the businessman's own protection — escorted him away in a squad car.

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