Surfside condo collapse

4th Arrest Made in Surfside Condo Collapse Victim Identity Thefts

Nelson Ronaldo Garcia-Medina, 20, was arrested Wednesday on multiple charges

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A fourth suspect has been arrested in connection with a scheme to steal the identities of victims of the Surfside condominium collapse.

Nelson Ronaldo Garcia-Medina, 20, was arrested Wednesday on charges of fraudulent use or possession of personal identification, organized fraud, fraudulent use of a deceased person's information, and unlawful use of a communications device, according to an arrest report.

Nelson Garcia-Medina

Garcia-Medina is the brother of 30-year-old Betsy Alexandra Cacho-Medina, who along with 38-year-old Rodney Choute and 34-year-old Kimberly Michelle Johnson, were arrested earlier Wednesday on similar charges in the scheme.

According to the arrest report, Garcia-Medina had a $130 pair of Air Jordan sneakers that had been purchased with a credit card that was issued under the name of one of the deceased victims of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse.

Investigators also found Garcia-Medina in possession of an unemployment benefits debit card issued in someone else's name, and the social security number of another person, the report said.

Garcia-Medina also had a notebook that had instructions on how to obtain free credit reports in other peoples' names, as well as instructions on how to conduct SIM swaps over the phone, the report said. A SIM swap happens when a scammer contacts a victim's phone carrier and uses the victim's personal info to illegally swap the victim's phone number to a new phone without the victim's knowledge.

Investigators also found merchandise and receipts showing the use of stolen credit cards to make purchases in Garcia-Medina's room, the report said.

In body camera footage of his arrest released by Surfside police Thursday, Garcia-Medina proclaimed he was innocent.

Betsy Cacho-Medina, Rodney Choute, Kimberly Johnson

Officials have identified at least five deceased and two living identity theft victims from the building, but the investigation continues and additional victims could be found, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference Wednesday.

"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."

Police released photos Thursday showing blank checks, blank birth certificates, an embossing machine and other items the suspects are accused of using to steal identities.

Surfside Police
Evidence photos from the Surfside condo collapse victim identity theft investigation.

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.

NBC 6's Ryan Nelson spoke to a woman who says she was one of the victims of the Surfside identity fraud scheme

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.

Garcia-Medina was being held on $50,000 bond Thursday, Miami-Dade jail records showed. Attorney information wasn't available.

NBC 6 and AP
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