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Hillsborough Co. deputies arrest man tied to large rent drop box theft ring

Posted at 10:30 AM, Nov 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-01 10:30:30-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. --- The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is working to bust a state-wide rent drop box theft ring. They said one of its members was just caught.

Using only a hanger and glue, these thieves fish out checks and money orders from any place that offers a drop box for rent payments.

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Aimee Byron knows first-hand the violating feeling of having your money stolen. She runs the social security finances for her 81-year-old mother.

Despite paying her rent, she received a late notice from the Fountainview Estates on Berkshire Lane.

The mobile home park quickly realized something was wrong when residents called insisting they had paid.

"A deadbeat, he’s profiting off the money of retirees. People who are living on social security who can’t afford to have this happen," said Byron.

She's talking about Ernesto Montalvo.

ABC Action News got a hold of a warrant showing rent drop boxes were raided at three mobile home parks. Together, there are eight known victims with losses totaling $5,000.

"It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy and it’s a horrible thing to do," said Byron.

According to the warrant, the payee line on the checks were changed to show Montalvo's name from the May through July spree.

"My first thought was, 'Oh my gosh, we don’t have the money to pay this,'" said Byron.

Deputies say Montalvo isn't working alone. The HCSO thinks he's connected to a large ring.

Deputies know the USF and Town 'n' Country areas were targeted.

"We have several people, a chart full of people that we’ve identified linked to this crime. Right now, it’s just literally connecting the dots figuring out how they’re all working together," said Crystal Clark, a spokesperson for HCSO.

Right now, there are statewide investigations into at least 60 known suspects.

"What these suspects don’t realize is everyone has surveillance video these days. So, they’re not really getting away with it," said Clark.

Byron wants them all brought to justice.

"My gosh, I want to do whatever I have to do to put this person in jail I want them to rot," Byron said.

Fountainview Estates and Bay West Mobile Home Park both removed its drop boxes. Management says their residents were hit back-to-back in May and June.

Carefree Village installed a camera right next to the drop box and rigged it to prevent tampering.