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Four arrested for stealing identities of Surfside victims


MIAMI  — A fourth person has been accused of stealing the identities of victims in the South Florida condominium collapse that killed 98 people, officials said.

Nelson Ronaldo Garcia-Medina, 20, was arrested Wednesday, but his name was not included when Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle held a news conference that afternoon to announce three arrests on multiple charges. She said then that there could be other co-conspirators in the case.

Garcia-Medina is the brother of Betsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, 30, who was taken into custody on Wednesday morning along with Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, and Rodney Choute, 38. They each face 15 to 30 years in prison.

News outlets reported that Garcia-Medina is accused of assuming the identity of someone killed in the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South to buy a $130 pair of Air Jordan sneakers.

“These individuals appear to be very skilled identity thieves, they’re professionals,” Fernandez Rundle said on Wednesday. “Except for their names, almost nothing else about them seems to be true.”

Authorities were first notified of possible fraudulent activity on 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.

Multiple agencies were involved in the fraud investigation, including Miami-Dade police, Surfside police, Aventura police, the US Secret Service, the US Postal Inspection Service and the US Marshals Service.

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.

Cacho-Medina, Garcia-Media, Choute and Johnson all remained in the Miami-Dade jail on Friday morning. Jail records did not list attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

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