One of the individuals arrested in the case worked for the Florida Department of Children and Family.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday morning that it had charged a total of seven people, including one Department of Children and Family Services employee, in connection with a data breach that compromised the personal information of more than an estimated 2,000 Florida residents.
During a Tuesday morning press conference, Col. Kurt Hoffman said the investigation was launched in May after a retailer in the University Town Center reported potentially fraudulent activity to authorities.
The initial investigation revealed that, using the personal information of “unsuspecting victims,” 39-year-old Roxana Ruiz and 43-year-old Eduardo Lamigueiro reportedly opened credit card accounts to purchase more than $6,000 worth of goods.
Officials then used various pieces of evidence found in their car to continue their investigation and execute a search warrant on their cellphones. The search warrant yielded images of receipts, counterfeit driver’s licenses and personal information of multiple unknown people.
Based on the images, detectives determined the stolen information was used in more than 40 transactions throughout the state to purchase items such as a Rolex watch and a Saint Laurent purse. The purchases yielded an estimated $260,000 in retail theft.
Upon further investigation, detectives found the phone number of several other individuals, including that of 48-year-old Bertanicy Garcia, who was then employed as an interviewing clerk at DCFS.
Because of her position, Garcia had access to family information said Taylor Hatch, Department of Children and Family Services assistant secretary for economic self-sufficiency.
Garcia, who had no prior criminal history, reportedly used her position to obtain and send the personal information of Florida residents to the others involved in the operation.
"The alleged actions of the individual involved in this investigation took critical resources away from the children and families who needed it most," Hatch said. "These actions are not reflective of the 12,000 DCFS employees who serve vulnerable families day in and day out."
Several other individuals were then identified in relation to this effort and reportedly aided in relaying personal account information, creating the fraudulent licenses and obtaining identity information through the DCFS database.
Hoffman said text messages show involved members requesting specific criteria from Garcia, such as information for a Hispanic male residing in Sarasota. They then used this information to make various purchases throughout Florida.
"They went for big purchases, some amounting to more than $8,000 on a single receipt," Hoffman said. " ... We routinely do retail theft operations, but we have not come across one of this magnitude, this size and with this number of victims in our prior investigations."
Hoffman said the actions of the seven people involved caused several victims, both adults and children, to go into debt. One woman, he said, was trying to purchase a home, but now cannot due to the expenses made in her name.
Hoffman urged Floridians to be vigilant about checking their credit card and bank statements daily, because "cyber crime and fraud isn't going away."
SCSO worked with U.S. Secret Service, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Miami-Dade Police Department, City of Miami Police Department, and Hialeah Police Department to complete the investigation and take five of the individuals into custody.
The department is still looking for Ruiz and Lamigueiro, who were last believed to be seen in Orlando. Anyone with information is asked to call the department.
Collectively, those arrested have 40 prior charges and five prior convictions. The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.