CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A 72-year-old man who Coral Gables police say is a con artist has been arrested after he defrauded a woman of thousands of dollars and stole two vehicles, authorities announced Wednesday.
According to police, Pedro Horta was dining at a restaurant in Coral Gables in mid-January when he befriended a waitress, told her his name was “Marcos” and offered her a position as a personal driver.
Police said Horta told the woman, Lucy Rodriguez, that his cataracts were getting worse and he had previously had issues with male drivers.
Rodriguez accepted the employment opportunity, but said she didn’t have a suitable car to drive Horta around in, authorities said. Police said Horta told the woman he could get her a car valued at $10,000 for just $5,000.
The woman told police she met up with Horta on Jan. 29 and gave him $5,000 in cash as payment for the car. But she said she could not get in contact with Horta after that and she never received the vehicle.
“I was convinced. A friend of mine even met him too and was convinced he was who he was,” Rodriguez said.
“I felt cheated, I felt dumb, I felt like I fell for someone and gave someone trust,” she added.
According to police, Horta met up with a second victim on the morning of Feb. 26 in the 200 block of Alhambra Circle after the victim advertised his 2004 Mercedes-Benz for sale on Facebook Marketplace.
Police said Horta posed as a potential buyer under the alias “Manny Diaz” and test drove the car with the owner.
The victim said Horta eventually pulled into a parking space and the victim got out to switch seats, but Horta quickly drove off, leaving the victim stranded.
Police said a third victim was targeted the next evening as Horta used the same alias while meeting up with a man who was selling a BMW on Facebook Marketplace.
Authorities said Horta test drove the car with the victim and they drove to the Marriott Hotel on LeJeune Road in Coral Gables.
Horta asked the victim to go inside and speak to the front office attendant, because he claimed the attendant was his daughter and he wanted to surprise her with the vehicle he was about to buy, police said.
But authorities said Horta drove away with the victim’s car as the man entered the hotel.
Horta was arrested Saturday after he was spotted driving the stolen BMW in Sunny Isles Beach, police said.
He faces multiple charges, including grand theft and obstruction by disguise. Records show he also has an out-of-county warrant.
“He’s done this three times in a matter of two weeks,” said Sgt. Alex Escobar of the Coral Gables Police Department. “We believe there might be possible victims out there. If there are other victims we would like them to contact their local agencies.”
Horta is being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
If you believe you may have been scammed by Horta or have any information that might help investigators, your are urged to call Miami-Dade Crimestoppers at 305-471-8477.
The Coral Gables Police Department also urges the public to follow these tips when buying or selling items using social media platforms:
· Always meet in a public place.
· Tell a friend when meeting strangers.
· Never meet at your home.
· Meet during the day (if possible).
· If it is a high-priced transaction, do it at a bank.
· Don’t pay in cash.
· Keep your cell phone close.
· Try not reveal too much personal information.