3 Charged With Stealing Identities of Surfside Collapse Victims

3 Charged With Stealing Identities of Surfside Collapse Victims the rubble of the surfside, florida, condo collapse smolders in a fire (Gerald Herbert/AP)

By Solange Reyner | Thursday, 09 September 2021 11:30 AM

Three people were arrested Wednesday and charged with stealing the identities of seven victims from the Surfside building collapse in June that left 98 people dead, reports The Miami Herald.

Betsy Alexandra Cacho Medina, 30, Rodney Choute, 38, and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, all of Northeast Miami-Dade, stole at least $45,000 using the identities of the building victims and unsuccessfully tried to make an additional $67,000 worth of withdrawals and purchases.

"We discussed that cyber-grave robbers move quickly after the collapse to grab what they could from deceased victims while families and friends were in emotional turmoil," Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Wednesday during a press conference.

"These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves, they're professionals. Except for their names, almost nothing about them seems to be true."

Authorities were first notified of possible fraudulent activity 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.

"Today, they got what they deserved," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said of the suspects.

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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.