Surfside identity theft ‘devastating’ to families of condo collapse victims

Crime ‘erodes some of the good faith,’ says man who lost his mother and grandmother in tragedy

“This is the last thing that anybody involved with Surfside needs right now,” said Pablo Rodriguez, who lost his mother and grandmother in the tragic condo collapse.

MIAMI – After feeling the community’s love and support after the tragic Surfside condo collapse, a family says the identity theft case that authorities cracked Wednesday is a cruel reminder of how callous some people can be.

“This is the last thing that anybody involved with Surfside needs right now,” said Pablo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez doesn’t believe his mother and grandmother — who both died in the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South — are victims of the scheme, but he feels the sting, saying the case opens a fresh wound.

“Assuming we are not involved, it’s still devastating. It brings back all of the feelings that you had that day, tarnishes their memories,” he said. “It starts to weigh on you and kind of erodes some of the good faith out of everybody that did so much good immediately afterwards.”

Three suspects were arrested Wednesday morning. Investigators say they were like “cyber grave robbers” in action, stealing the identities of at least seven victims of the collapse (five who died and two who survived).

As the community hoped and mourned in the days after the tragedy that took 98 lives, authorities say Betsy Alejandra Cacho-Medina, 30, Rodney Choute, 38, and Kimberly Michelle Johnson, 34, engaged in the callous cash grab.

Detectives say the suspects obtained the names and dates of births of victims to open fraudulent credit cards.

“With no regard for the sanctity of life, the victims, or their families,” Rodriguez said.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said there could be additional victims, and possibly more co-conspirators, so the investigation is ongoing.

“I hope they keep looking because I am sure these are not the only ones and the only schemes that have been going on,” Rodriguez said. “And that they prosecute to the full extent of the law. I mean there’s no real chance that anyone involved in this can show any true kind of remorse because then they would not have done this to begin with.”

Prosecutors say if you think you or someone you know has been a victim of this scheme to call 786-801-6086.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."