After Surfside Condo Collapse, an 'Abhorrent' Alleged Crime

3 are charged with stealing the identities of 7 victims following shopping sprees
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2021 11:50 AM CDT
'Cyber Grave Robbers' Struck After Condo Collapse
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is seen at right, as Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava holds a board with details of three people arrested Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Two women and a man allegedly stole the identities of seven victims of the condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla., in the days after the tragedy and spent thousands of dollars on shoes and a Versace purse. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle described the suspects—Betsy Alexandra Cacho-Medina, 30; her boyfriend, Rodney Choute, 38; and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34—as "very skilled" and professional identity thieves at a news conference, noting they'd spent $45,000 and tried to spend $65,000 more.

It was just 16 days after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building—as crews worked to recover and identify the remains of those killed—that a sister of a woman who died noticed a request that replacement credit cards be sent to a new address, reports NBC News. She also reported fraudulent purchases and unauthorized wire transfers. An investigation by local law enforcement, US Marshals, the Secret Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service revealed the three suspects had targeted five deceased victims and two survivors of the collapse, and possibly others, Fernandez Rundle said.

"Cyber grave robbers did move very quickly after the collapse to grab what they could while family and friends were in absolute emotional turmoil," she said, per Reuters. She added surveillance video connected one of the suspects to a vehicle that was registered to an empty apartment used to receive mail. Surveillance video also showed one of the suspects carrying a Versace purse, which she'd purchased for $1,658, while making a $2,500 purchase, which included three pairs of shoes, Fernandez Rundle said. The three, who also allegedly carried fake Social Security cards, face charges including identity theft, organized scheme to defraud, and trafficking in credit cards. (More identity theft stories.)

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