In a news conference on Wednesday, September 8th, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that three individuals were arrested in South Florida for stealing the identities of seven victims of the June 23rd Surfside condo collapse that claimed the lives of 98 people. Five of the seven victims of the identify theft scheme are deceased. The accused, who were referred to as “cyber grave robbers” by Fernandez Rundle, were identified as 30-year-old Betsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, the “main suspect,” 38-year-old Rodney Choute, and 34-year-old Kimberly Michelle Johnson. A fourth person, the brother of Cacho-Medina, 20-year-old Nelson Ronaldo Garcia-Medina, was arrested and accused of identity theft a day after the news conference. Garcia-Medina had not been mentioned at the news conference the day prior.
The first report of identity theft was filed with the Surfside Police Department on July 9th, a little over two weeks after the condo building had collapsed, after the sister of Ana Ortiz, one of the deceased victims, noticed fraudulent activity on her sisters bank account and credit cards. This activity included changes to her siblings mailing address, requests for replacement cards which were sent to the address, multiple unauthorized wire transfers, and fraudulent transactions on the replacement credit cards. The fraud investigation, although ongoing, involved multiple local police departments and multiple federal agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Marshalls. Detectives found that the address on the credit card bills was for a vacant apartment that was allegedly used as a “dropbox location.” They also determined that a car registered to that address belonged to Cacho-Medina. Recordings also showed how Cacho-Medina defrauded Barclays, a financial institution, when she called to have a replacement card sent to a new address and to have transactions cleared after telling the security department that she was a victim of the condo collapse. The identity thief’s, which were seen on surveillance footage purchasing luxury goods, allegedly stole at least $45,000 and attempted to steal $67,000 prior to their arrest.
The suspects are facing multiple felony charges, which include identity theft, organized scheme to defraud, trafficking of credit cards, use of counterfeit and fictious ID, possession of counterfeit/fictious drivers license, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Miami-Dade State Attorney Fernandez Rundle announced that if convicted, the accused could face 15 to 30 years in prison for the crimes that they committed. Cacho-Medina, who was identified as the “main suspect” in the affidavits had a bond set at $1 million, while the others had bonds set between $430,000-$500,000. They are all scheduled to appear in Miami-Dade’s bond court on Thursday, September 16th.
Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.
- Writing: Explain why it is important for local law enforcement and federal agencies to work together to solve crimes such as the identity theft scheme that targeted the victims of the Surfside condo collapse.
- Debate: According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the suspects could face between 15 to 30 years in prison for the crimes that they committed. Do you believe that the suspects should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?
- Poll: The suspects who are accused of stealing the identities of the Surfside condo collapse victims are professionals. (Agree or Disagree).
- Short Answer: Discuss the charges that the suspects in the identity theft scheme are facing.
Cover Image: iStock/selimaksan