Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring title=
Credit: Santa Barbara Police Department
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Source: Santa Barbara Police Department

On February 22nd, 2021, SBPD Detectives conducted follow-up investigation into a series of theft-related crimes which occurred from December, 2020 through February, 2021.  During this time they contacted two subjects in a vehicle, Meranda Fernandes (30 years old) and Ruben Montoya (43 years old). Both subjects are residents of Santa Barbara. 

Montoya was found to be in possession of a loaded firearm and additional firearm components, as well as methamphetamine, and personal identifying information with the intent to commit fraud (identity theft). Detectives later discovered that Montoya was manufacturing partial firearms at his residence. Montoya is a convicted felon and it is illegal for him to possess a firearm or ammunition. He was booked at jail on several charges.  He was release due to COVID-19 restrictions on bond for those suspected crimes and less than a month later he was again arrested for possession of a loaded handgun, possession of drugs, as well as charged with identity theft, and other related crimes.

During the investigation on February 22nd, Fernandes was found to be in possession of, with the intent to sell, methamphetamine and heroin. She was also in possession of the identifying information of numerous citizens of Santa Barbara and the surrounding area, and was believed to possess it with the intent to commit fraud (identity theft). She was booked at jail for various charges. 

Later that same day, Detectives arrested Amanda Valenzuela (32 years old) of Santa Barbara for charges related to the same investigation. She was found to be in possession of personal identifying information and was believed to possess it with the intent to commit fraud (identity theft). Valenzuela was also wanted to several previous crimes including the following:

  • Vehicle burglary, credit card fraud and identity theft in December, 2020;
  • Additional credit card fraud in December, 2020 and January, 2021;
  • Check forgery and identity theft, January, 2021;
  • Identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, possession of stolen property, February, 2021;
  • Identity theft, possession of fraudulent checks, possession of stolen mail, February, 2021.


Valenzuela was booked on the numerous charges. Due to COVID restrictions, she was released from jail.  She was contacted and promptly arrested again on March 5th, 2021, for identity theft, theft, looting, and drug charges stemming from other crimes. 

In the course of these various investigations, another suspect, Andrew Sebastian Lopez (25 years old) of Santa Barbara, was identified as a criminal associate of Amanda Valenzuela. Detectives determined that he committed the following crimes:

  • Burglary, possession of stolen property, identity theft, grand theft, credit card fraud, December, 2020;
  • Identity theft, possession of stolen property, and using a stolen credit card, December 2020 and January 2021;
  • Vehicle burglary, January, 2021;
  • Drug charges, possession of misappropriated property, and reckless driving, January, 2021;
  • Selling stolen merchandise at a pawn shop in Riverside County. The stolen property was taken from a City of Santa Barbara work truck that was stolen, February, 2021;
  • Attempted burglary at a local business, February, 2021;
  • Possession of stolen property, possession of drugs, and resisting & delaying a police officer, February, 2021.


Lopez was booked at jail, but due to COVID restrictions, he was released.  After each arrest and release he promptly re-offended and was taken into custody and book on new charges.  After his latest arrest he was remanded into custody by the judge. 

Thank you to all those in the community who assisted with the investigations and to the hard work of the Santa Barbara Police Department Officers and Detectives. 

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Basicinfo805 Apr 01, 2021 02:09 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Aw man,
I must've got deleted. Ok, how about this idea- we lock them up longer from now on for being criminals and absolutely screwing up others' lives? Ever had someone steal your identity? I have, and it's a fricking nightmare. Takes months of work, lost sleep, and money lost to try and fix. Criminals need to be punished so they can spend abundant time thinking about what they did. Go ahead and argue back.

Shasta Guy Apr 01, 2021 12:44 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Is the “Covid Catch and Release” policy another brilliant idea hatched by Newsom at his French Laundry strategic planning session and forced on us, or is it a local innovation?

This is absolutely insane.

bumblebee Apr 01, 2021 12:03 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

They are released from jail so that they don't catch covid. And once released they go back to the safety of doing meth and heroin.
I'd rather have covid.

edney Apr 01, 2021 02:26 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I think the shame is primarily directed at people who champion catch and release.
1. General poverty and minorities. I did not see economic status mentioned in the original report (because it wasn't there?). Hopefully you aren't saying people with Hispanic surnames who steal and do drugs are automatically from poverty. Addiction can quickly bring about poverty. Theft of different types becomes a profession quickly for some. Drug addicts of all races are magicians... they can turn $1000 worth of others property into $50. By these acts of theft, they can make poverty worse for others of all races.
2. Addiction. An addict who has a trust fund or who is still somehow able to function in the job world can use in a way that only hurts themself. That is rarer than Zebra's in the hills because families do suffer, but I've heard that there are those who manage to minimize collateral damage, I've just never met anyone who was able to maintain an insular addiction that didn't hurt anyone else over the entire duration. The addict has to struggle, fight with it and take steps out of it. As the article noted, one of the peole arrested reoffended several times immediately after being released. Those were choices. The choice was made to score more meth and use upon release. People who want help can be helped, I know of no one that has continued to use thoughout rehab and been rehabbed. Testing dirty says the person may not be ready, repeated dirty tests usually result in removal from the program and indicate the person is not willing to do what it takes at this point in time to break the cycle of addiction.
I think it is fair to say that these four were less concerned with COVID than they were of getting money for a very toxic meth. Its fair for some to question priorities and health concerns, because at their age, risking COVID is the least of their problems. One could argue that getting clean inside the jail is worth risking the exposure to COVID.
I'm not for locking everyone up at all, but the offenders have to show a willingness and commitment to adjust behavior or they need to be removed for a period of time, if only to give their neighbors a break.

Roger Apr 01, 2021 01:10 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I agree @SH MONK We don't always see eye to eye on things but I totally agree with your statement. I'm glad I'm one of those things you mentioned because I'd rather be that than one of them. I voted for Bill Brown and the current Gov. of California. I will NEVER vote republican again after Trump, nor did I vote for him I will not vote for Hate.

CoastWatch Apr 01, 2021 07:45 AM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

PITMIX & RHS are the reason I absolutely CAN NOT place on a Jury when summoned by the Courts. These whacky individuals can process common sense.

PitMix Apr 01, 2021 07:27 AM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

You are completely wrong to blame us for this. More likely it is cons attitude toward education and rehabilitation of people in poverty than anything else.

SBNatural Mar 31, 2021 08:39 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Rhs has the delusional progressive attitude. I hope you are not harmed by scum like this who roam free because of society more concerned about criminals than innocent citizens. Just like the Asian woman in new York, beaten by another early release v

gizmo1 Mar 31, 2021 08:25 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

We need to start protesting all these criminals not going to jail-protest in every town in California until they do something -THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE

RHS Mar 31, 2021 06:21 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

As noted, one can pretty well get the problem here by looking at the photos. Addiction, especially to meth, is a terrible and compelling thing. Those who simply want to write off these people would probably be a lot more understanding if it were their children. Putting them in prison for a decade or so is only going to cost us taxpayers a huge amount of money. Let's try something else, including rehab. And, btw, just because one is in prison or jail or works in prison or jail does not mean they have to take extraordinary risk of COVID infection for the purpose of other people's distant vengeance.

cwazny Apr 01, 2021 08:32 AM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Yes. Sit them down, and give them a good talking to. That'll do it! Please! Oh, my bleeding heart! If they were my children, I'd change my name, and move out of town. Put them away for a long time! What will that do? It will keep them out of society for at least that period of time. Works for me!

edney Mar 31, 2021 08:18 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

They are young and in an age group with a near zero chance of dying from COVID.
I don't mean to get all sciency or use math/data but science and data says if you let them go with a warning, they usually re-offend within weeks. It is their chosen profession and over time has become one of their pillars of income.
Science and data also say they won't perform well in rehab because of the rules. Rules like the ones that say while in rehab you cannot use drugs or alcohol and must test clean in order to suceed. No drugs weapons or alcohol allowed in the facility.. that kind of egregiously onerous data and sciency stuff no one could ever be expected to achieve.
Google their last names here to see if they are already out of custody.

a-1617246086 Mar 31, 2021 08:01 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I’ve had a few friends and a coworker with serious addiction problems, including cocaine & meth, and they didn’t drive around with loaded firearms or commit burglaries. There is more going on here. Addiction doesn’t drive everyone to commit other crimes. Sometimes if it walks like a duck...

ger8t Mar 31, 2021 07:44 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I am happy to simply write them off. There is only so much time and money available to help people. Better to use the money in the schools and try and get to kids when they are young. You could use these people as an example of how not to live. I am 62 and there have been drug addicts and criminals present through my life time. And millions of dollars have been spent to try and help them.

CoastWatch Mar 31, 2021 05:46 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I wonder if Ms. Amanda Valenzuela stole Identities of students at Santa Barbara City College, since she has FULL ACCESS of student information in the office that employs her....

SantaBarbaraCit... Apr 01, 2021 02:17 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Given the serious nature of the charges, SBCC felt it was important to comment that the individual mentioned is not (and has not) been employed with the College. If any member of the public has further questions, they may contact our Public Information Officer at

Shasta Guy Mar 31, 2021 04:49 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I say they earn a free Covid vaccination so they can't be released on the grounds of Covid restrictions. Keep them in jail until they get the second Pfizer shot.

Yeti Mar 31, 2021 04:12 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

Compete POS's.. we should reinstitute public stocks and buckets of rotten fruit so at least we can have some fun and express our anger at them before they set them free to steal from our community again.

PitMix Mar 31, 2021 03:24 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

I'm shocked, shocked, to find that these suspects were using meth.

The covid rules for releasing suspects accused of these crimes are beyond stupid. Should only be for first time offenders with misdemeanor crimes only. If you do these crimes, you should be willing to risk covid in jail. Catch and release is only for fish.

Roger Mar 31, 2021 03:17 PM
Four Suspects Arrested in Organized Theft Ring

We gotta take care of our criminals here in Santa Barbara we don't want them getting sick look at the positive side At least he wasn't carrying a loaded AR-15, or a hammer or he might be Hammering in the Morning the Evening and all over this land....That 2nd guy looks like he'd make a good chief of police...

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