Woman accused of stealing from online dating matches has long history of fraud, officials say
A woman accused of “capitalizing on her physical attraction” to steal the identities of people she met on dating and home rental websites will face a judge Wednesday after she was arrested at a luxury hotel in Santa Barbara, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Maria Christina Johnson, 43, is believed to have dated or rented from her victims to gain access to their homes, where she’d scavenged through their belongings to obtain enough personal information to open new lines of credit without their knowledge, authorities said.
Johnson — also known as Maria Hendricks, Gia Hendricks, Maria Christina Gia and Maria Hainka — has been arrested and charged multiple times before for various forms of fraud, identity theft and burglary before, according to a statement from the sheriff’s department.
After she successfully assumed an identity, investigators say, she moved into high-end hotels and charged thousands of dollars of goods and services to her victims, even attempting to purchase a car at one point, authorities said.
By the time she was arrested as a guest of a luxury, beachside coastal resort in Santa Barbara on Thursday, investigators estimated Johnson, who lists her occupation as a dog trainer, had spent more than $250,000 of her victims’ funds.
A special task force with agents and deputies from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been investigating the case since March.
But Johnson’s fraudulent lifestyle began sometime in 1997 in Washington and Oregon, authorities said. She was born in Washington and served at least two years in Washington state prison for identity theft, and she came to California sometime before 2008.
She was arrested in Torrance and served prison time for 11 felony counts of identity theft, grand theft and credit card fraud.
Manhattan Beach police also arrested Johnson in 2011 in Hollywood on suspicion of forgery and burglary. At the time, Johnson was posing as Maria Hendricks to tout a false association with NASCAR’S Hendrick Motorsports team. She also masqueraded as the wealthy manager of a modeling agency.
Authorities say they can’t know how many people Johnson has stolen from, given all of the identities and aliases she has used over the years. Johnson, sheriff’s officials said, was motivated by an “elevated sense of entitlement” and aggressively took over her victim’s lives.
She’s accused of changing their mailing addresses and stealing her victims’ phone numbers, so that calls to the victim would ring her own phone. In one case, investigators allege, she scheduled tours of expensive homes with a real estate broker, then stole the broker’s identity. Once she stole an identity, she often used it to go after their friends and family as well, authorities said.
Johnson is being held at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s inmate locator. Her bail has been set at $2 million.
Anyone with information about Johnson or Johnson’s victims is being asked to call detective Duane Decker or Ned Russell at 818-576-8884.
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