South Beach burglar swipes tourist’s backpack, is nabbed by cops using iPhone app

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Police in South Beach used a crafty digital tool to track down the thief who, they said, targeted a couple visiting from Europe.

The Brendel family, who flew in from Germany for some fun in the sun, said their ordeal started with a day on the sand.

Stephan Brendel spoke with 7News on the phone, Wednesday.

“Well, yesterday was our last vacation day, and we wanted to go to the beach,” he said.

The tourists said they took safety precautions.

“We were careful. We watched our stuff, but then there was that moment,” said Brendel.

The victim said it was at that moment a beach thief struck, snatching expensive and essential items.

“When I came back out of the water, I saw that my backpack was gone,” said Brendel.

Stolen from the sand, the bag contained an iPhone, iPad, wallet and an Android phone.

Police were called and responded in minutes. Brendel told them he had the Find my iPhone app.

That’s when the crime tracking began.

“It all ended up in a T-Mobile store,” said Brendel.

Lincoln Road is where they’d wind up, where they’d sent a signal to make that stolen phone chirp.

“We’re hearing this noise, this ‘ping, ping, ping,'” said Brendel.

Police said the stolen iPhone was in the store’s restroom with the thief, who threw it in the garbage and then tried to leave.

“Our cops end up confronting him,” said Miami Beach Police Officer Ernesto Rodriguez. “Not only do they find the cellphone that he had stolen wrapped up in the trash can. On him, in the backpack, he also had the victim’s iPad, another cellphone.”

The thief, later identified as Thomas Chionchio, ended up busted, in bond court and in jail on theft and fraud charges.

Before his arrest, police said, he used Brendel’s cards, not just at T-Mobile, but also at Foot Locker, spending hundreds of dollars.

Detectives said Chionchio is no rookie accused offender. They said he was the man captured on surveillance video during a home burglary spree at a property on Michigan Avenue back in June.

The tenant said the suspect raided his refrigerator before he was apprehended.

Police said Chionchio took off running while in handcuffs, but officers were able to shock him with a Taser in the street after a brief chase.

“Dangerous man,” said Rodriguez.

Fortunately for the Brendels, they were able to get back some of their valuables, thanks to officers’ swift actions.

“They did a lot, a lot of effort,” said Brendel.

Brendel got back his iPad, iPhone and Android phone, but not his backpack, wallet and credit cards or driver’s license.

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