Identity Thieves Rob Bank and Credit Card Details of Surfside Condo Collapse Victims

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Three ‘cyber grave robbers’ started shopping within two weeks of the tragedy

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The night of June 24 was horrific for the residents of the Miami condominium which collapsed, ultimately killing 98 people. The world watched and read the news with concern, feeling a deep empathy for the victims and survivors.

But three people in South Florida were focused on something else. They were thinking of a burglary to steal the identities of some of the deceased in this tragedy, as well as two surviving owners of a Surfside condo.

The trio contacted banks, retailers and even the government aid operation set up to financially support the homeless after the collapse. Cold-hearted identity thieves opened new accounts and credit cards, then went on a shopping spree, spending $ 45,000 of their victims’ money.

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“Cyber ​​grave robbers moved very quickly after the collapse to retrieve what they could of the deceased victims as families and friends were in absolute emotional turmoil,” said Miami state prosecutor -Dade, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, at a press conference Wednesday.

In the case of the late Ana Ortiz, they bought a pair of Medusa sandals for $ 374, a Versace handbag valued at nearly $ 1,700, and merchandise from Target.

The crime was discovered when, two weeks after the collapse, Ortiz’s sister noticed unusual activity on Ana’s email account. Passwords, addresses and contact details for his bank accounts and credit cards were being changed.

“I was at home writing the eulogy”, Nicole Ortiz told the Miami Herald. “I don’t know why, but I looked down. I have seen notifications from Wells Fargo. I saw emails with money transfers.… It was crazy. These people are professional. Who would do something like this?

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  1. Members of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team search for possible survivors June 25, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

    Families cling to hope as rescuers search around the clock for survivors of Miami building collapse

  2. After a brief stop to demolish the standing remains, search and rescue personnel continue to work in the rubble pile of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Fla. On Monday, July 5, 2021.

    Responsibility in Florida Condo Collapse: Everyone Will “Blame Everyone”

Bettsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, 30, Rodney Choute, 38, and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, all from northeast Miami-Dade were arrested. Cacho-Medina is Choute’s girlfriend and says she is Johnson’s sister.

Cacho-Medina is held on a $ 1 million bond, while Johnson and Choute have $ 500,000 and $ 430,000, respectively.

All the names of their victims had been published in the aftermath of the collapse.

In a taped call, a woman believed to be Cacho-Medina asked a Barclays bank security representative for a replacement card for Ana Ortiz, using the tragedy for her own purposes.

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“Yes, because I was a victim of the towers that just collapsed (in) Surfside,” she said on the call. “All my personal belongings were in there. “

The security representative replied, “Oh, my God. Sorry about that.”

It quickly became apparent that the trio were pros. The new card was sent to a vacant Hallandale Beach apartment that was only set up to receive mail. Police said the mailbox appeared to be damaged and unlocked

However, once the various cards were operational, a big mistake gave the police a head start.

One of the thieves drove his Mercedes-Benz to go shopping with the credit cards, and this was the lead the police needed.
One of the thieves drove his Mercedes-Benz to go shopping with the credit cards, and this was the lead the police needed. Photo by Bloomberg File

An Aventura detective investigating the purchase of the Medusa sandals with a Nordstrom credit card on behalf of Ana Ortiz saw on store security video a woman wearing a hat and face mask picking up the shoes – until present incognito – but, she left in a black Mercedes-Benz which turned out to be registered at Cacho-Medina.

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The detectives weren’t ready to pounce on the woman yet. Instead, they and investigators from the US Marshals, US Secret Service, and postal inspectors examined surveillance footage and financial records, used GPS trackers, and staked the homes of suspects.

The woman who would be Cacho-Medina bought a pair of $ 1,000 shoes from a Christian Louboutin store and a black handbag from the Versace store. She was also seen in surveillance footage at a target in Miami Gardens, shopping with the Versace bag.

Johnson and Medina drove a BMW they owned together to the Aventura Mall, where they purchased Burberry products with one of their new credit cards.

The famous red soles of Louboutin shoes, which can sell for up to $ 1,000.
The famous red soles of Louboutin shoes, which can sell for up to $ 1,000. Photo by Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

According to CNN.com, the document states that between July 7 and July 9, there were 28 attempted transactions totaling $ 13,389.80 on the Barclays card, of which 10, valued at $ 5,892.93, were approved. . A replacement Discover card in the name of another deceased victim, sent to Hallandale’s address, was used for about 50 transactions totaling over $ 30,000.

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Fernandez Rundle said the suspects allegedly stole at least $ 45,000 and attempted to steal $ 67,000 before being arrested.
The suspected thieves didn’t stop at bank and credit card scams. Police also said all three Zelle accounts used money transfers from victims’ accounts, CNN reported, and some ATM purchases and withdrawal attempts were videotaped.

They also used a system called “porting”, accessing text messages sent by financial institutions and others to customers’ phone numbers, allowing them to authenticate their identity. They used this method to change the address of a surviving victim’s FEMA relief check to be sent to their bogus apartment in Hallandale.

“These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves,” Fernandez Rundle said in his video statement. Based on the charges, she said they could each face 15 to 30 years in prison if found guilty. Police continue to investigate whether other victims of the condominium collapse have been affected.

The three individuals had previously been arrested in the Miami area for varying degrees of assault and battery, aggravated assault, theft, burglary, robbery and possession of false identification.

In the ID case, Choute was arrested after being arrested in 2017 in Doral. The officer’s arrest report noted the existence in the car of credit applications and retail receipts on behalf of others. However, no charges were laid because the police could not prove whether Choute, or a passenger, had in fact completed the requests.

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