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Four Florida alleged looters arrested in Lee County following Hurricane Ian

Four Floridians have been arrested and charged for allegedly looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian as hundreds of thousands of residents and business owners in the Sunshine State look to recover from the crippling storm.

Omar Mejia Ortiz, 33, Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena, 26, Brandon Mauricio Araya, 20, and Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya, also 20, were all arrested Thursday by Lee County Sheriff deputies on charges of burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency, jails records indicate.

Brandon Araya and Steve Araya, as well as Valerie Mena, were also charged with grand larceny. Ortiz was hit with a petit larceny charge.

The four were arrested a day before a video emerged of five individuals sitting handcuffed for looting in a devastated section of Fort Myers, though it’s unclear if any of the four suspects charged with looting are in the video.

Omar Mejia Ortiz
Omar Mejia Ortiz.

Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena
Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena.

Brandon Mauricio Araya
Brandon Mauricio Araya.

Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya
Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya.

Florida officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have warned against ransacking empty homes and businesses following the Category 4 storm that caused billions of dollars in damages.

“Don’t even think about looting. Don’t even think about taking advantage of people in this vulnerable situation. And so local law enforcement is involved in monitoring that,” DeSantis said during a Friday news conference.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno previously told would-be looters they “better think twice.”

“When I say zero tolerance, zero tolerance means we will hunt you down, track you down, and you’re going to jail. If you’re lucky,” he said.

The four accused looters were all released from jail on Saturday after posting $35,000 bond, jail records indicate.

The death toll continues to climb from the punishing winds and heavy rainfall Hurricane Ian brought last week.

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