Maria Christina Johnson, 43, was arrested on April 28 at a hotel in Santa Barbara County, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Duncan said.
Johnson was booked at the sheriff’s Malibu/Lost Hills Station on two felony arrest warrants out of Los Angeles County, and she was being held on $2 million bail, Duncan said. The latest case began in the LAPD’s jurisdiction, Duncan said.
“Losses to date, appear to be in the range of $250,000, but they are suspected to be much greater when all victims are located and identified,” Duncan said.
The investigation was conducted by personnel from the Southern California High Tech Task Force. The task force is run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and includes personnel from the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Johnson, who was born in the state of Washington, “has no legitimate source of income and lists her occupation as a dog trainer, yet appeared to live the high-dollar lifestyle … entirely off stolen identities,” Duncan said. “Johnson — also known as Maria Hendricks, Gia Hendricks, Maria Christina Gia, or Maria Hainka — has a past littered with felony convictions for fraud dating back to 1997.”
Johnson’s first felony convictions came in the states of Washington and Oregon, and date between 1997 and 2008, Duncan said.
“She drifted southward and, in 2008, commenced an arrest record in California,” Duncan said.
Johnson served a prison sentence for convictions from a case out of Torrance that included 11 felony counts of identity theft, grand theft and credit card fraud, Duncan said.
During the task force investigation, detectives determined that Johnson’s mode of operation was “to capitalize on her physical attraction and meet victims through well-known dating websites and home rental websites,” Duncan said.
“Once (she) gained access to a victim’s home, she located their personal identifying information and opened lines of credit without their permission. She would change their mailing address and assume the victim’s identity. Once she gleaned information about the victim’s personal connections, she moved on to steal the identities of their relatives and friends,” Duncan said.
After assuming an identity without permission, Johnson allegedly moved into high-end hotels and charged up thousands of dollars worth of goods and services.
“During one hotel stay … Johnson even brazenly attempted to purchase an automobile,” Duncan said.
On April 28, task force members learned that Johnson was staying at a well-known luxury hotel in Santa Barbara County, in the name of one of her victims, Duncan said.
Task force detectives contacted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and informed them of the circumstances surrounding the investigation. Santa Barbara County deputies personnel responded to the hotel located in the 1200 block of Channel Drive, Santa Barbara, and detained Johnson.
“Investigators would later learn during initial investigation into (her) stay there, losses she incurred were over $100,000, and total losses in that fraud case may be more than $250,000,” Duncan said.
Anyone with information on the investigation, or who may have victimized by Johnson, was urged to call Detectives Ned Russell or Duane Decker at (818) 576-8884. Tipsters wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.
— Wire reports
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: