Homeland Security assists in arrest of 3 men suspected of string of thefts in Washington City

Composite image with background stock photo and overlay of Washington City Police vehicle taken in Washington City, Utah, May 11, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Three men posing as Puerto Rican tourists were arrested Friday after purchasing over $5,000 in merchandise using stolen credit cards, police say.

2020 file photo for illustrative purposes only of the outside parking lot area of the Walmart store in Washington City, Utah, on July 15, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, an officer responded to a local business commerce area on a report that three men were seen entering several local businesses, including two big-box retailers off of Telegraph, where they allegedly made a number of fraudulent purchases.

According to charging documents filed with the court, the reporting party also told police the suspects left in a white SUV with California license plates. 

When officers arrived at the first store, they obtained credit card receipts connected to the fraudulent purchases. Police say they contacted one of the account owners who said the cards had been stolen after their vehicle was broken into while they were at a park in St. George. Shortly after, they began receiving alerts from the bank that more than $3,700 in purchases had been charged to their account. 

Through further investigation, officers located a white Buick SUV with California plates, later determined to be a rental, parked with one man sitting inside. When police began to question him, he reportedly said he only spoke Spanish but added that he was alone when asked about the other two suspects. 

2017 file photo of traffic at the intersection of Telegraph and Green Springs in Washington City, Utah, Aug. 10, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

As soon as the suspect was read his Miranda Rights he requested a lawyer and refused to answer any questions, the report states.

Officers obtained an ID card issued out of Puerto Rico in the suspect’s wallet.

An agent with the Department of Homeland Security responded to assist in the investigation. The agent verified the ID card the suspect was using was “fake.” And once the suspect’s fingerprint scan came back, authorities identified the man as 20-year-old Axel Jesus Bravo-Opazo, who was from Venezuela and in the country on an expired visa.

Police say even after the suspect was identified by his real name, he continued identifying himself as a Puerto Rican using the name he initially provided to officers.  

According to the report, the Homeland agent said he had come across this type of situation in the past, in which Venezuelan nationals used ID cards that appeared to be issued out of Puerto Rico but were forged. 

Surveillance footage gathered in the area verified the presence of three suspects involved in the incidents, the report states. The footage also showed Opazo entering one of the stores and paying for more than $5,000 in merchandise using a credit card that police say was stolen. 

The same three suspects were seen entering another big-box retailer and making similar purchases. 

After obtaining a warrant, officers conducted a search of the suspect’s vehicle; during which, they recovered two Apple Macbook laptops still in their original packaging and several other receipts with the allegedly stolen credit card information.

With two suspects still at large, Opazo was arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and booked into jail. 

While at the jail, the arresting officer of Opazo was notified Washington City officers located and detained the other two suspects: 24-year-old Javier Alejandro Diaz-Gomez and his brother, 23-year-old Oliver Diaz-Gomez, both identified by their Puerto Rican ID cards that agents said were similar to the one provided by Opazo.

Both suspects reportedly told officers they spoke only Spanish and refused to answer any questions, so the pair was transported to jail in Washington County.

Once there, Oliver Diaz-Gomez reportedly told the Homeland Security agent he was from Puerto Rico but said he left his visa at home. The agent then told Gomez if he was in fact from Puerto Rico, then he would not need a visa to be in the United States since Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

2020 stock image of Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The suspects were booked into jail and each was later charged with three second-degree felonies: theft by receiving stolen property; producing or transferring any false identification document; and theft. 

The officer also noted that all three suspects presented forged IDs and refused to cooperate with police, adding that none of the suspects had any ties to Utah and each appeared to illegally be in the country, further posing a flight risk

As such, a request to hold the suspects was submitted to the court and later granted, so all three remain in custody without bail at this time. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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