Arrested looters in Lee County were in US illegally, sheriff says: ‘Not condoning it’

Officials in Lee County, Florida, are warning that not all post-Hurricane Ian looters may get off as lucky as the jailed accused scavengers arrested earlier this week — some of whom are in the United States illegally.

Omar Mejia Ortiz, 33, and Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena, 26, were arrested along with 20-year-olds Brandon Mauricio Araya and Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya. Lee County sheriff’s deputies arrested all four on charges of burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency, according to online jail records.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno held a press conference Tuesday to address the increase in looting and illegal clearing in the wake of the historic hurricane.

“As far as looting – we have law and order in Lee County. We have law and order in our great state of Florida and we always will,” Marceno said. “Right now we have four cases of looting and I’m proud to say they’re behind bars where they belong. Our residents will be safe.”

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20-year-old Brandon Mauricio Araya was charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure when Lee County was hit by Hurricane Ian.

20-year-old Brandon Mauricio Araya was charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure when Lee County was hit by Hurricane Ian.
(Lee County Sheriff’s Department)

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Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya allegedly burglarized an unoccupied structure during Hurricane Ian.

Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya allegedly burglarized an unoccupied structure during Hurricane Ian.
(Lee County Sheriff’s Department)

Marceno announced that three of the four looters are in the United States illegally, saying, “All three of these subjects are here in this country illegally – Robert Mena, Brandon Araya, Stephen Araya – all arrested for stealing bottles on Fort Myers Beach during the hurricane They were located and arrested. And I want to say that I will not tolerate it again.”

Florida sheriff’s deputies arrested the four suspected burglars who allegedly broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, as many affected Floridians struggle to recover from the Category 4 storm.

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Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena was charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena was charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
(Lee County Sheriff’s Department)

Marceno warned the public that not all looters will escape with their lives.

“I’m not playing. We’re not playing. We have law and order and good residents will be safe. We’ve had arrests because of these incidents,” Marceno continued. “You can go in. You will be carried out.”

Omar Mejia Ortiz was arrested and charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Omar Mejia Ortiz was arrested and charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
(Lee County Sheriff’s Department)

Ortiz was also charged with petit larceny, while the other three suspects were charged with grand larceny.

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It is unclear exactly when and where the burglaries took place.

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