4 Looters Accused of Targeting Homes of Hurricane Ian Victims Released on Bond: Report

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Authorities in Lee County, Florida, arrested and charged four alleged looters who were spotted ransacking homes and businesses on Fort Myers Beach, according to multiple reports.

The individuals, three men and a woman aged between 20 and 33, have been identified in jail records as Brandon Mauricio Araya, Omar Mejia Ortiz, Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya, and Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena, the New York Post reported.

All four suspects, charged with stealing from an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency, were arrested on Sept. 29—but were released after posting bonds of $35,000 each, the paper reported.

Brandon Araya and Steve Araya, as well as Valerie Mena, were also charged with grand larceny, documents indicate.

NTD Photo
Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena. (Courtesy of Lee County Sheriff’s Office)

The incident happened around the same time an NBC 2 reporter posted a video on Twitter showing a group of five people handcuffed on the ground.

Those people were also taken into custody after allegedly looting properties in the hurricane-hit neighborhood, though police haven’t confirmed if any of the four alleged looters charged were the same group of thieves as in the video.

“Sheriff’s deputies told me … these people were arrested for looting on Fort Myers Beach,” Gage Goulding said on social media along with a short clip of the suspects.

Authorities warned looters in a statement on Facebook, saying Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno “means business” and has “a zero tolerance stance” against people who intend to loot homes of victims following Hurricane Ian.

“We are patrolling and you will be arrested if you partake in criminal activity,” the sheriff’s office wrote together with a picture of the five individuals who were arrested in the neighborhood.

Lee County was one of the worst-hit places after Ian made landfall in western Florida last week as a major Category 4 storm.

Sheriff Marceno said on Monday that more than 50 people died in Lee County alone, followed by 24 in Charlotte County. The number of those killed in the entire state rose to at least 100 people on Monday.

The death toll from the catastrophic storm has been rising amid ongoing search-and-rescue missions.

‘You Loot, We Shoot’

It appears looters haven’t heeded warnings Florida officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, issued last week to those targeting empty homes and businesses following the hurricane.

DeSantis issued a stark warning during multiple press conferences on Sept. 30, including one in Fort Myers, where he remarked about seeing the sign directed at would-be looters displayed at a business in nearby Punta Gorda.

DeSantis Ian Update
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (C) delivers an update on Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2022. (Florida Governor’s Office via Reuters/Screenshot via NTD)

“They boarded up all the businesses, and there are people that wrote on their plywood, ‘you loot, we shoot,’” DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, we are not going to allow lawlessness to take advantage of this situation.”

“We are a law-and-order state, and this is a law-and-order community, so do not think that you’re going to go take advantage of people who’ve suffered misfortune,” the governor added.

Ashley Moody, the state’s attorney general, said that Floridians displaced by Hurricane Ian already “have enough to worry about without having to fear theft or burglary at the hands of offenders.”

Separately, a senior Florida official warned that scammers and con artists often try to take advantage of desperate people following major natural disasters and called on residents to be vigilant in the wake of Ian’s destruction.

“You have these predators that will come in, and they will go door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods that they see the damage and they will sign over their [insurance] claims to contractors or they will have unscrupulous public adjusters … that are going to damage your ability to get made whole any faster,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis told Newsmax Friday.

After natural disasters like Ian, bad actors “show up in droves,” Patronis warned. If you are a “policyholder” and suffered damage, “call your agent, call your carrier, or call my office,” he added.

Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.

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