Officials: 3 arrests made in condo collapse victim ID thefts
MIAMI (AP) — Three people have been arrested for stealing the identities of some victims in June’s deadly South Florida condominium building collapse, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Betsy Alexandra Cacho Medina, 30, Rodney Choute, 38, and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, were arrested earlier Wednesday on multiple charges related to fraud and counterfeiting, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office announced during a news conference.
Officials have identified at least five deceased and two living victims from the building, but the investigation continues and additional victims could be found, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.
“These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves, they’re professionals,” Fernandez Rundle said. “Except for their names, almost nothing else about them seems to be true.”
The oceanfront Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed in the early hours of June 24, killing 98 people. Authorities were first notified of possible fraudulent activity on July 9, when the sister of one of the deceased victims contacted Surfside police, officials said. The sister had noticed password changes to the victim’s bank accounts and credit cards, as well as new addresses and contact information.
None of the new addresses were the residences of the identity thieves, officials said. The group was using a series of drop locations, investigators said, adding that is a common tactic used in fraud schemes. The group managed to steal about $45,000 through illegal cash transfers and by making expensive purchases with fraudulently obtained credit and debit cards. Investigators said security workers at banks and retailers managed to stop another $67,000 in fraudulent activity.
Multiple agencies were involved in the fraud investigation, including Miami-Dade police, Surfside police, Aventura police, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Officials are still trying to determine what caused the 40-year-old building to collapse years after initial warnings about serious structural flaws. Debris has been cleared from the site and taken to a warehouse near the Miami International Airport for examination.
Jail records didn’t list attorneys for Cacho Medina, Choute or Johnson.