A couple and a man from Long Beach – all in their 30s – are in custody today in connection with an identity theft and mobile forgery scheme that entails breaking into vehicles parked at local motels and hotels, including the , to obtain victims’ personal identification cards, credits cards and checks.
The investigation into this case began on Saturday, Nov. 19 when items were stolen from a vehicle belonging to an Irvine couple who were attending a wedding at the Sheraton Cerritos Hotel, said Det. Rich Kent of the .
While their Volvo V70 station wagon was parked at the hotel, someone opened the unlocked vehicle between noon and 2 p.m., and took the woman’s purse carrying her cell phone, a Barnes and Noble NOOK e-reader, an Apple iPod, a set of keys, her driver’s license and I.D., credit cards and her checkbook, said Kent.
A few days later, the victim notified Chase bank that her checkbook had been stolen and asked for her account to be closed.
“At that point, Chase told her that two checks had recently been cashed from her account,” Kent said. “She knew she didn't issue those so they provided her with images of the two checks, and she brought them to Cerritos Station to report what had happened.”
Kent immediately began looking into the two forged $1,000 checks and learned that they had been deposited into “the suspect’s own bank account” via ATM at a Citibank location in Long Beach.
With a name from the forged checks and ATM surveillance video, which the detective describes as being tremendously clear, the suspect was identified as a Long Beach man.
While speaking to a Citibank employee over the phone on Nov. 29 about the forged checks, Kent received another phone call from the bank’s manager stating that the same suspect was once again at their Long Beach location trying to withdraw another $1,000 from his account. Long Beach police immediately detained the man until Cerritos deputies arrived at the bank to take him into custody, according to Kent.
The suspect, whose name is being withheld, is described as a white man in his 30s who was recently released from prison for a burglary, the detective said, adding that he now faces charges for forgery and passing stolen checks.
Arrest of One Suspect Leads to Couple Behind Identity Theft & Forgery Scheme; Man Jumps Off Third Floor Balcony in Attempt to Evade Arrest
While Kent was interviewing the detained suspect, the man tells him that the persons responsible for stealing the woman’s belongings from her car in Cerritos are “two friends of his that move from motel to motel to commit thefts” which enables them to carry out their forgery and identity theft plot.
With the information provided by the suspect, Kent and members of the station’s Special Assignment Team tracked down the other two suspects at a Stanton motel on the evening of Nov. 29.
“We had actually not gone into the motel room yet, but apparently the man saw us through the peephole, and in a desperate move to escape, he jumped off the third floor balcony to try and get away,” Kent said. “He fell about 30-to-35-feet and broke his leg in five different places.”
After the fall, deputies arrested the injured 31-year-old Pacific Islander and his a 31-year-old Asian girlfriend, the detective said. While searching the couple’s hotel room, deputies found stolen property and other items that tied them to the mobile forgery and identity theft scheme.
“While searching the room we found counterfeit checks and stolen credit cards – a fairly good amount, definitely enough to do damage to a business financially,” Kent said.
“We pretty much shut them down, but what's bothersome is that they were staying at the Cerritos Sheraton,” he said, adding that it appears the couple would jump different from motels and hotels, stealing personal I.D.’s, checks and credit cards from vehicles.
Though the couple’s names were being withheld pending the completion of the investigation, Kent said both have extensive records associated with drugs, forgery and theft.
When asked whether the twosome was responsible for any other burglaries or thefts in the city, Kent said though nothing had surfaced, he “wouldn't rule out anything ... they've clearly done this before.”
Theft Prompts Reminder About Tips to Deter Vehicle Break-Ins
Because this case began with a theft from an unlocked vehicle, authorities say it serves as another reminder of the importance of protecting yourself from being an easy target to auto burglars especially because Cerritos is a freeway-friendly city that is easy to get in and out of.
Here are some tips to help deter auto burglary thefts:
- Do not leave items of value in plain sight inside your car
- Ensure that all car doors are properly locked
- Put all items of value in the vehicle’s trunk and make sure it too is locked
For additional crime prevention tips, visit the city’s Safer Cerritos website at safercerritos.com.