BROOKSVILLE — Mind your mail.
The Hernando Sheriff's Office is sending that message in the wake of a recent spate of mail thefts across the county.
The number of reported incidents increased from "hardly any over the last few years to 15 to 20 over the holidays," said Sgt. Jeff Kraft. "For our area, and based on my personal knowledge, this is a significant increase. Based on the likelihood of unreported crimes, it would naturally be much higher."
The cases have been reported from Spring Hill to Brooksville to Ridge Manor, said Detective Dustin Mormando, and investigators have confirmed that checks were stolen and cashed. Detectives believe separate suspects or groups of suspects are committing similar crimes.
Among them, detectives say, is 29-year-old Indalesio "Indy" Basaldua, who was arrested last month and charged with organized fraud. Investigators believe Basaldua got account information from stolen mail, then fraudulently transferred $43,000 from the Suncoast Schools Federal Union account of a Brooksville man.
Basaldua was hit with another organized fraud charge on Jan. 15. Detectives say he stole a new credit card from a Brooksville woman's mailbox, called Chase Bank, pretended to be a co-owner on the account and activated the card. Then he and his associates racked up nearly $410 in charges, deputies say.
On Tuesday, deputies arrested Jamie Louis Lovett, 36, on charges of credit card fraud and forgery. The Weeki Wachee man, who has prior theft convictions in Hernando, admitted to stealing mail with Basaldua and then using a stolen credit card, detectives say.
Thursday, the Pasco Sheriff's Office announced the arrest of a man and woman suspected of stealing mail in four Tampa Bay-area counties and using personal information to commit fraud.
Brian Michael Chipman, 29, of Hammond, Ind., faces various charges relating to fraud, burglary and 13 counts of stolen credit cards. His girlfriend, Shelly Johnson, was arrested on similar charges.
According to Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, Chipman drove past houses in Gulf Harbors, in New Port Richey, after midnight in a rental car with no plates and the lights off. When he was pulled over, deputies found multiple pieces of mail with personal information. They also found checkbooks, credit cards, bank statements and Social Security numbers.
Investigators believe Chipman was looking for debit cards and possibly planning to file fraudulent tax returns. Detectives located at least 11 names of people in the Tampa Bay area and went to the couple's residence in Moon Lake and found more stolen mail — including the names of more than 900 victims and about 3,000 pieces of stolen mail.
Detectives were still working last week to determine the number of victims in Hernando.
People should make sure checks that were mailed and made payable to cash got to designated recipients, Kraft said.
"We have discovered check thefts that the victim was unaware of because they assumed it went to the correct person," Kraft said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.