FLORIDA – Law enforcement officials have arrested four people they think were part of a theft ring that stole recreational vehicles, campers, trailers, and heavy equipment meant to help Floridians who had to leave their homes because of Hurricane Ian.
Troopers from the Commercial Vehicle and Cargo Theft Task Force of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and detectives from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) arrested the four individuals last week for crimes including those defined in the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The investigation into the theft ring began in April 2023 after the CCSO said it connected a group of suspects to the theft of seven RV/campers belonging to the State of Florida for disaster relief to assist victims of Hurricane Ian.
“Incidents such as this remind us that while many show their strength and character during times of crisis, there are also those who look for opportunities to exploit others in need,” said FHP Colonel Gary Howze II.
Beginning in March 2023 and ending in July 2023, the group allegedly stole, sold, and delivered 19 RVs/campers (16 belonging to the State of Florida), one trailer, and two pieces of heavy equipment with an estimated value of over a million dollars.
The theft ring would reportedly operate in the early morning or late evening hours to blend in with the typical delivery hours of RVs and campers to displaced Floridians during the state of emergency following Hurricane Ian.
Once in possession of the stolen RVs and campers, members reportedly would begin word-of-mouth sales at significantly discounted cash-only prices, some claiming the low price was due to repairs the vehicle had undergone following hurricane damage.
Nine RV/campers have been recovered, and 11 remain stolen, along with the trailer and two pieces of heavy equipment, said the FHP.
Two suspected members of the ring, Juan Carlos Santana, 55, of Miami, and Giddel Santana Morales, 43, of Miami, were arrested and booked in Miami-Dade County. Another two suspects, Misael Gonzalez, 53, of Naples, and Ivan Gutierrez Miranda, 43, Naples, were arrested and booked in Collier County.
One additional suspected ring member, Yosmel Betancourt Morales, 32, of Lake Worth, remained at large as of last week.
“I want to thank the Task Force, to include some of my own detectives, for their efforts in finding and arresting these individuals,” said Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell.
“The collaboration between law enforcement agencies is critical to maintaining the safety in our area. It’s part of what keeps Charlotte County the best place to live, work, and play. I hope that this operation encourages others to think twice before committing a crime in Charlotte County.”