FDLE arrests four in organized theft ring

SEBRING, Fla. – Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested four suspects who traveled the state stealing hundreds of rent checks from unsuspecting renters. The FDLE investigation began in October 2013.

Agents determined theft crews targeted apartment complexes or rental communities having drop boxes, striking when payments were due at the end of the month.  The thieves targeted apartment communities in Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Osceola, Polk and Sarasota counties.  

“This low-tech, yet well-coordinated effort to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of money orders and cashier’s checks has been stopped thanks to great investigative work by FDLE and local law enforcement agencies in nine Florida counties. My Office of Statewide Prosecution will work diligently to prosecute these defendants charged with stealing Floridians' rent payments,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“This investigation represents the determination of our agents and partners,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.  “The scope of this scam is wide-ranging with multiple suspects, locations and victims and I appreciate the commitment of law enforcement and the Office of Statewide Prosecution to ensure justice for these victims.”

The thieves worked nights and weekends using long metal rods affixed with a sticky material to ‘fish’ payments from drop boxes. Then they altered and deposited the checks in 38 identified bank accounts and immediately withdrew the cash. The thefts were not usually discovered until the landlord asked the tenants for the overdue rent payment.

Some 443 money orders and two cashier’s checks totaling nearly $229,000 were deposited in the suspects’ accounts.  Four suspects were arrested each charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, grand theft, burglary, uttering forged instruments and possession of burglary tools:
Jailer Arteaga-Lezcano, 25, 609 Ballard Road, Avon Park, Fla.
Oscar Lezcano-Artiles, 44, 609 Ballard Road, Avon Park, Fla.
Nayadi Gallardo-Vega, 28, 609 Ballard Road, Avon Park, Fla.
Wendy Leon Ruiz, 29, 16141 SW 288th Street, Homestead, Fla.

FDLE agents were assisted in this investigation by detectives from the Collier,  Osceola, Lee,  Charlotte, Highlands, and  Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Offices, the Jacksonville Sheriff Offices, Kissimmee, Ocala, Gainesville, Miramar, Lakeland, Fort Myers, Tampa and Sarasota Police Departments and additional law enforcement agencies outside the state of Florida.

The case will be prosecuted by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

For further information: 
FDLE Press Office
Gretl Plessinger, Molly Best, or Steve Arthur
(850) 410-7001