Four suspects arrested for alleged looting in Florida after Hurricane Ian

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

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.

Ortiz was also charged with petit larceny, while the other three suspects were charged with grand larceny. It is unclear exactly when and where the burglaries took place.

All four suspected looters were released from jail after posting bail.

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The arrests came after Lee County issued a strict curfew and a “zero tolerance” policy for looting. The southwest Florida county was devastated by Hurricane Ian, prompting officials to issue warnings after burglars were seen ransacking homes in Fort Myers.

“With law enforcement unable to respond due to the weather conditions, there was a burglary on the Cleveland Avenue River,” Lee County Manager Roger Dejarlais said at a news conference last week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his own warnings against looters looking to loot abandoned homes and businesses.

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Rescue workers search a flooded trailer park after Hurricane Ian passed through the area Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Florida.

Rescue workers search a flooded trailer park after Hurricane Ian passed through the area Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Florida.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“Don’t even think about looting,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “Don’t even think about taking advantage of people in this vulnerable situation.”

“When I say zero tolerance, zero tolerance means we’ll hunt you down, track you down, and you’ll go to jail. If you’re lucky,” DeSantis warned.

“Florida is a law and order state,” the Republican governor tweeted the next day. “Looting and lawlessness will not be tolerated.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis provides an update on damage from Tropical Storm Ian on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis provides an update on damage from Tropical Storm Ian on Thursday, September 29, 2022.
(Florida Governor’s Office)

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Florida is still recovering from billions of dollars worth of damage from the storm. Rivers in the Sunshine State are still rising, meaning even more flooding and damage could be on the horizon.

At least 97 deaths have been confirmed in Florida due to Hurricane Ian.

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