A new partnership to combat retail theft in Collier County is paying off.
Thanks to the Collier County Organized Retail Theft Association, deputies this week made two arrests and recovered a credit card that was stolen during a recent vehicle burglary. The investigation is ongoing and more charges are expected.
The Collier County Organized Retail Theft Association was developed earlier this year in response to a growing trend in organized retail crime activity across Collier and Florida. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with more than 80 area retailers in the information-sharing effort.
Members meet monthly to share intelligence information such as pictures of incidents and alerts, discuss trends they are seeing, and – ultimately – crack cases.
The groups work together by posting information on the pages of the CCORTA website that are accessible only to CCORTA’s retail members. Using the website, retailers exchange information on shoplifters and methods thieves have been using in their stores. CCSO has also provided other Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies with access to the site
Collier’s website, http://www.ccorta.org/, is one of only eight such retail information-sharing websites in the United States.
Law enforcers have used the website to identify and arrest several retail theft suspects since the site went online over the summer. But this week marked the first time retailers identified a potential credit card fraud suspect, which led to the recovery of a credit card reported stolen from a vehicle in November.
CCSO investigators gave this account:
On Nov. 23, a woman reported that someone broke into her locked car near the tennis courts at Vineyards Community Park in Golden Gate. The woman told deputies that she left her purse in the passenger compartment. When she returned to her vehicle, her purse, including several credit cards, were missing.
The woman returned home and canceled her credit cards, before contacting deputies. She discovered that her cards had already been used to at a local retail store, with charges totaling more than $4,000.
On Nov. 24, a man tried to buy a $2,000 television from a Naples area retailer with a credit card. The store clerk became suspicious after he asked the man for identification and the man said he lost it. The clerk’s suspicions grew when he noticed the man had a membership card to a big box store with another man’s photo inside his wallet.
After being turned down for the TV, the man went to the tools section, where he attempted to use the same credit card to purchase some power drills. When asked for ID, the man said he lost it and quickly left the store.
Store personnel posted an alert on the CCORTA website. The alert included a picture of the man pulled from the store’s surveillance video as well as a description of the incident. The alert went out to all CCORTA members via e-mail.
On Monday, a loss prevention officer at the hhgregg Store, 5052 Airport-Pulling Road, contacted CCSO to report that the man from the CCORTA alert had just left the store.
A short time later a CCSO deputy conducted a traffic stop on a white Chevrolet Malibu with two people inside in the parking lot outside hhgregg. The passenger, later identified as Kevin Rosario, 23, of Miami Lakes, matched the description of the person in the CCORTA alert.
The driver gave the deputy a valid license bearing the name Absolon Salazar. The deputy asked for permission to search the vehicle and the driver consented. The search turned up one of the credit cards reported stolen in the Nov. 23 vehicle break-in at Vineyards Park.
No other stolen or fraudulent credit cards were found during the search. But deputies located a set of 19 dealer master keys for Ford, Honda, Mazda and Dodge vehicles. There were also several high-end electronic items in the vehicle, including an iPad, iPods and an Xbox.
Salazar was arrested and charged with narcotics possession after deputies found a partially smoked marijuana cigarette where he was sitting.
After being fingerprinted at the Collier County jail, deputies learned Salazar’s true identity: Jose A. Fuentes, a 22-year-old Honduran national from the Miami area with an extensive criminal record that includes burglary, grand theft auto and credit card fraud extending north to Virginia. Fuentes also has active warrants from Osceola County and Fredericksburg, Va.
Fuentes was additionally charged with providing false information to law enforcement. He was also arrested on the active warrants.
A few hours after the traffic stop deputies arrested Rosario after they saw him driving the Malibu on Pine Ridge Road near Whippoorwill Lane. Rosario was charged with driving on a suspended license.
Rosario also has an extensive criminal record including burglary and credit card fraud.
Though neither Rosario nor Fuentes was arrested in connection with the stolen credit card, a CCSO investigation continues.
The image of the man in the CCORTA alert from the Nov. 24 incident.
Jose Antonio Fuentes