MIAMI (WSVN) - Police have made several arrests after identities of the victims of the Surfside condominium collapse were stolen.
Not long after the deadly collapse, criminals started finding ways to steal from the victims and their families left behind.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Offices announced on Wednesday three people have been arrested.
A stop at Aventura Mall, the bag on the counter and the shopping bags provided two big clues for investigators into an alleged identity theft plot.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney said the nearly $1700 Versace bag is evidence of a weeks-long shopping spree using money stolen from one of the victims killed in the Champlain Towers South condo collapse. The other purchases were paid for by another unsuspecting victim.
“Their motto could’ve been, ‘Your loss is our gain,'” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
The months-long investigation was wide-ranging and complicated, complete with store surveillance video, fake addresses, drivers licenses and social security cards.
There are even recorded calls with banks like this one:
“Hi, Mrs. Ortiz, my name is Jerry in the security department with your Barclays View MasterCard. Did you request a new card on the 6th of July?” asked a Barclays operator.
“Yes, because I was the victim of the Surfside collapse,” said a woman claiming to be Ana Ortiz, who lost her life in the collapse.
Bettsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, Kimberly Michelle Johnson and Rodney Choute are now facing several felony charges.
A woman who lost her sister, nephew and sister’s husband on June 24 noticed unusual activity and called Surfside Police.
“She had noticed that her mailing address was changed with some of her financial institution information, that replacement credit cards were requested to be mailed to a new address, that there were multiple unauthorized wire transfers that were initiated from the deceased’s account to other accounts,” Rundle said.
Fernandez Rundle said the identity theft started just 16 days after the beachside condo crumbled.
Two of the identity theft victims survived the tragedy, five others did not.
There were $45,000 in stolen funds, but Fernandez Rundle said the group tried to steal an additional $67,000 through ATM withdrawals and various purchases.
“We in South Florida have sent a clear and convincing message: this will not be tolerated,” said Aventura Police Chief Bryan Pegues.
For the local officials who spent so much time at the site with anguished loved ones and first responders, it’s another layer of loss.
“On top of that tragedy, we have to go out and defend innocent victims from yet another degradation,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Investigators ask any other families who think they may be victims of fraud to reach out to the State Attorney’s Office.
Cacho-Medina is being held on a $1 million bond, Johnson is being held on a $500,000 bond and Choute is being held on a $430,000 bond.
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