An alert Medina Township police officer is getting credit for his role in cracking a major identity theft case that involved at least 10,000 victims across the U.S.
The investigation dates back almost two years, but one of the men Officer Matthew Ventura arrested during a traffic stop was found guilty in federal court just last week.
In August of 2016, Ventura pulled over a minivan with Florida plates for a traffic violation.
The officer immediately trained his eyes on the passenger, Ernesto Senti.
"When I looked at the passenger, I immediately noticed that he was the suspect from a previous case that we had," Ventura said.
The officer realized it was the same man in a Walgreen's surveillance photograph who was wanted for ID theft, a case Ventura had been investigating.
Senti and the driver, Isbel Trujillo, were arrested for misuse of a credit card, but several local police departments and federal agents also began to realize the men appeared to be part of a Cuban organized crime ring. The group used skimmers at gas stations to steal personal information from thousands of people.
"If it was someone else that made the traffic stop, they might not have identified him, so we were able to identity them, get these guys in jail and then take it to the next level," Ventura added.
FBI and Secret Service agents, along with several local police departments, have since linked 53 people to the group and have indicted many of the suspects.
On March 14, Trujillo was found guilty of aggravated identity theft and will be sentenced in July. He could be sentenced to up to two years in federal prison.
Senti posted bond and got out of the Medina County Jail. Investigators believe he fled to Cuba, but an indictment is waiting for him, according to federal investigators.
Joe Borsellino, 67, of Medina Township, was one of the identity theft victims.
His debit card was compromised at a local gas station. Thieves created a fake card and spent about $1,000 at a jewelry store using Borsellino's information.
"It's aggravating," he said. "There are people who feel crime does pay and it's easier than working."
Federal agents credit Officer Ventura for his pivotal role in identifying two of the crooks.
"The Medina Township Police Department was crucial to this case. The officer who made the stop recognized the suspects and was able to obtain key evidence. They did a tremendous job," said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman.
In an email to several police departments, Secret Service Agent Tood Porinsky also mentioned the work of Rocky River Officer Craig Witalis for his "thorough work and putting together a case that I could run with."
Ventura said he appreciated the recognition, which made him feel good. He also pointed out the elaborate investigation could help bring justice to thousands of innocent victims and may put a major dent in the gas station skimmer thefts.
"Their job is to commit crime and our job is to catch them," he said.