Centre Daily Times

Prosecutor: ‘Cyber graverobbe­rs’ stole Surfside victims’ IDs

- BY JACLYN PEISER

Nicole Ortiz was writing the eulogy for her sister, Ana Ortiz, who died this summer in the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse, when she decided to look through Ana’s iPad.

“I noticed there were email notificati­ons,” Nicole told WPLG in midJuly.

As she went through the inbox, Nicole said she read several emails about Ana’s credit cards referencin­g address changes and money transfers.

“They started changing all of the bank accounts,” she said.

Nicole reported the suspicious activity to the Surfside Police Department on July 9 – the day of her sister’s funeral.

What followed was a weeks-long investigat­ion involving several local police department­s and federal agencies. Authoritie­s say at least three defendants had stolen the identities of seven Champlain Towers South victims, including five who died in the collapse. The stolen funds – totaling $45,000 – were used to rack up numerous pricey items, including designer handbags and shoes, authoritie­s said.

On Wednesday, MiamiDade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced the arrests of Betsy Alexandra Cacho Medina, 30; Rodney Choute, 38; and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, who are charged with schemes to defraud and identity theft.

“These individual­s appear to be very skilled identity thieves – they’re profession­als,” Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference.

The state attorney called the group “cyber graverobbe­rs” and said they quickly took advantage of the victims and their families in the midst of “absolute emotional turmoil.”

“Their motto could have been ‘Your losses, our gain,’ ” Fernandez Rundle said.

All three defendants remained in jail early Thursday. The Washington Post was unable to determine if the three have retained lawyers.

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