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Largo woman stole wallets as churchgoers took Communion, police say

LARGO — The churchgoers left their purses on their pews when they went to take Communion.

That's when the woman swooped in and stole their wallets, police said.

In the hours following the thefts, Largo police found, the woman used the victims' credit cards to buy gift cards and electronics at area stores.

According to a search warrant released this week, the culprit was 43-year-old Cynthia Gonzalez, a Largo woman with multiple aliases who racked up more than four dozen arrests — mostly for economic crimes — in Pinellas County from 1996 to 2001.

As it turns out, Largo parishioners aren't the only ones who returned to their pews to find their valuables missing. Gonzalez, a Texas native, was also wanted in Harris County, Texas, where authorities said she was committing the same type of crime at several local churches.

In addition, Texas authorities said, Gonzalez used an assumed name to get a job at an urgent care clinic in Conroe, Texas; stole the identities of patients and co-workers; and took patients' wallets and purses while they were being examined.

Gonzalez is being held in the Pasco County Jail. Pasco deputies, acting on a tip that a wanted woman was at a home in Holiday, arrested her Sunday on several outstanding warrants from Pinellas and Texas after they found her hiding under a blanket in a bedroom at the home.

Detectives with the Largo Police Department began investigating after learning of three thefts at two local Catholic churches. On Aug. 20, an 81-year-old woman attending Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church on S Belcher Road discovered her wallet was missing. Police believe the wallet was stolen about 8 a.m. as the woman took Communion.

Just after 9 a.m. that day, a woman matching Gonzalez's description was caught on surveillance video using the victim's credit card to purchase eight $100 gift cards and an iPad 2 computer at a local Target store, for a total of $1,815.

Less than an hour later, the same woman used the card to spend $325 on a television set, a DVD player and a cordless phone at a local Sam's Club.

A Largo detective who viewed the video saw the woman left in a cab. The detective called the cab company and found the woman had been dropped off at an apartment complex on East Bay Drive.

Police obtained the woman's cell phone number from the cab company and traced it back to Gonzalez and also confirmed with the complex that Gonzalez rented the apartment, according to the warrant.

Another victim, a 69-year-old woman, reported her wallet was stolen from St. Patrick Catholic Church at 1507 Trotter Road on Aug. 30. Shortly after the theft, Gonzalez ran up more than $2,000 in charges on the victim's card at a Target store, the warrant states.

Gonzalez admitted the thefts when interviewed by Largo police on Monday, according to the warrant.

Largo police Lt. Mike Loux declined to discuss the case, citing its ongoing status. Charges in the Largo cases are pending, Loux said.

Officers executing a search warrant Tuesday at her apartment at 3660 East Bay seized numerous electronic devices.

Gonzalez has been convicted multiple times on charges of obtaining property with worthless checks and has previous convictions for grand theft and forgery, according to Pinellas court records. Texas criminal records show Gonzalez has previous convictions on charges of credit card abuse, theft and forgery.

Largo woman stole wallets as churchgoers took Communion, police say 09/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:24am]
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