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Tampa International Airport detective tracks down luggage thief on MySpace

Memo to would-be crooks: Don't show off wearing your ill-begotten swag on the Web. Especially not on social networking sites that can lead tenacious investigators to your door.

The cop in this case was Valerie Finley, a Tampa International Airport detective. She was investigating the disappearance of $100,000 worth of jewelry and blank checks belonging to the wife of light heavyweight boxing champ Antonio Tarver of Tampa in July.

Finley used bank records to find a suspect in Las Vegas who deposited one of the checks. She found the woman's MySpace page and linked to photos of a friend wearing what looked like Denise Tarver's wedding and engagement rings on her pinkie finger. The caption: "Look at That Rock."

"I couldn't believe they were not smart enough to know not to do this," said Finely, a 15-year veteran of the department who started as a police dispatcher. "It was too good."

She passed the name and address to Las Vegas police. When they knocked on her door, Finley said, the woman answered wearing the rings. Police arrested two suspects and returned the jewelry to the Tarvers.

Finley didn't really belong on the case. Denise Tarver couldn't find her checked bag with the rings in a side pocket when her US Airways flight from Tampa arrived in Las Vegas. She reported the lost bag to the airline. Police believe one of the suspects lifted it off the airport luggage carousel, Finley said.

About two weeks later, Tarver's bank told her — wrongly it turned out — that the blank check was deposited in Tampa. She filed a theft report with police at Tampa International.

Finley obtained a subpoena on the account where the check was deposited. The account holder said she had a daughter in Las Vegas with debit card access to the account. Finley went to the young woman's My Space page and linked to a friend.

There, she found a photo album of what appeared to be a same-sex marriage with shots of a chapel, marriage certificate, reception party — and the woman wearing Tarver's wedding and engagement rings.

Last week, Finley was named the airport police Officer of the Year for her work on the case.

"A detective has to use different approaches and have the tenacity she exhibited," said airport police Chief Paul Sireci.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa International Airport detective tracks down luggage thief on MySpace 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 9:53pm]
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