Multiple arrests have been made in the identity theft cases that targeted victims of the Surfside condominium collapse, authorities said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said three "cyber grave robbers" targeted at least seven of the collapse victims, including five who were killed.
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Reports of identity theft cases began popping up just days after the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo, which killed 98 people.
Fernandez Rundle said the suspects posed as the victims to order replacement credit cards that were mailed to alternate addresses. Once they had the credit cards, the suspects made a number of purchases and wire transfers, Fernandez Rundle said.
All told, the suspect stole at least $45,000 worth of goods and attempted to steal more than $60,000 more, Fernandez Rundle said.
"These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves, they're professionals," Fernandez Rundle said.
Arrested in the scheme were Bettsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, Kimberly Michelle Johnson, and Cacho-Medina's boyfriend, Rodney Choute, officials said.
All face charges including organized scheme to defraud, identity fraud, use of a counterfeit ID, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, and possession of counterfeit driver's license.
Fernandez Rundle said that on July 9, just 16 days after the collapse, the sister of one of the victims discovered that the victim's identity had been stolen, and notified police.
At Wednesday's news conference, Fernandez Rundle played an audio call of one of the suspects, identified as Cacho-Medina, posing as a Surfside victim while calling a credit card company to request a new card. She also played surveillance footage showing a suspect using the card to make purchases at a store in Aventura.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who spent weeks at the site meeting with families and giving updates on the efforts to find survivors, commented on the arrests Wednesday.
"We've worked so hard to do everything we can to restore the lives of those families who lost their loved ones and the survivors of the building collapse. What a tragedy that anyone would seek to exploit this situation," she said.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he knew the suspects would eventually be arrested.
"Today they got what they deserved and we're all much happier for it," Burkett said.
Fernandez Rundle said there could be more victims, and encouraged anyone with questions or concerns about fraud involving the victims to call their hotline at 786-801-6086.
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