(U-WIRE) MINNEAPOLIS – After University of Minnesota senior Sergei Dmitriev’s house was burglarized during winter break, he figured any record of the estimated $6,000 theft of property from the household was destined to vanish into the great abyss of some locked-away police filing system.
But there it was: a blue Toshiba laptop for sale on Craigslist that looked identical to the one that resided in his bedroom earlier that month.
“Instantly, I was 99 percent sure that was my computer,” Dmitriev, a biology, society and environment student, said.
Dmitriev and his four roommates decided to set up a pseudo-sting operation to get the seller, who called himself “John,” arrested.
“Our plan was basically for me to pretend that I’m interested in buying it,” Dmitriev said.
Police later identified “John” as Daniel Gonzalez, a 39-year-old with a long list of aliases and arrests. Gonzalez was posing as a student in his mid-20s and living at the Kappa Beta Kappa fraternity house.
On Jan. 9, Dmitriev met Gonzalez at the Starbucks off Washington Avenue Southeast and Harvard Street Southeast.
Dmitriev said Gonzalez was wearing a letterman’s jacket and claimed to be a 25-year-old student who was on the University baseball and football teams.
Dmitriev said Gonzalez initially showed him the wrong laptop. Insisting he was interested in the Toshiba he saw online, Gonzalez brought Dmitriev to the KHK fraternity house, he said.
After showing him another incorrect laptop, Gonzalez finally produced the Toshiba laptop posted on Craigslist.
“I was kind of nervous at first, because instantly I knew it was my computer, so I was trying to keep calm,” Dmitriev said. “I didn’t know what he was capable of.”
After verifying his ownership of the computer, Dmitriev sent a text message to his roommates that read “make the call,” and they promptly called Minneapolis police, Dmitriev said.
Police arrived on the scene about 20 minutes later, he said, but Gonzalez fled before they entered the house.
After obtaining a search warrant, police discovered “conservatively” $5,000 worth of merchandise in Gonzalez’s room, including electronic gaming systems, iPods and seven laptops, Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Tom Stiller said.
Police also found Gonzalez’s work schedule for Macy’s in his room. The following day, Stiller waited at Macy’s on the off chance Gonzalez would arrive for his shift.
“I really didn’t think he was going to show up for work,” Stiller said, “but he did.”
Gonzalez was arrested at Macy’s on Jan. 10 at 11:20 a.m. for a stolen property offense, according to the police report.
Stiller said although he wouldn’t have caught Gonzalez without the help of Dmitriev, he strongly advises against crime victims taking matters into their own hands.
“This guy was a total stranger,” Stiller said. “He could have been a serial killer. This worked out great this time, and it’s a great story and everything, but it could have turned out much, much differently.”
A QUESTIONABLE PAST
Stiller has his theories about Gonzalez.
In addition to the University letterman’s jacket Gonzalez was wearing when Stiller arrested him, police found seven empty backpacks in Gonzalez’s room. Stiller believes Gonzalez was using the cover of a student in his mid-20s to blend in with the student community and steal from houses around the area, he said.
Stiller said he thinks Gonzalez was simply walking door-to-door wearing the letterman’s jacket and backpack until he found a vacant house to burglarize.
Stiller has already linked Gonzalez to four other burglaries in the University area, he said. At least three of them occurred over Thanksgiving or winter break.
Magda Rusz, an elementary education junior, said she met Gonzalez — who she knew as Anthony Martines — last April.
She moved into a house near Dinkytown Gonzalez had recently moved out of, and he was then living next door.
Rusz described Gonzalez as a “nice” and seemingly “genuine” guy, but said she and her friends became suspicious of him when they noticed he was inconsistent in telling people his age.
“He told me he was 23, but he told my fiance he was 24,” Rusz said.
In August, Rusz came home to find someone had entered her house through a window and stolen her debit card, she said.
About two weeks later, her roommate woke up to a man in her room rifling through her purse, and when she began screaming the man barked at her and ran away, Rusz said.
Her roommate identified the man as Gonzalez (Martines at the time) to Rusz the next day when he attended Rusz’s birthday party at her house.
Rusz said she called the police each time her house was burglarized, but did not mention Gonzalez because she was not sure he was the one responsible.
After “putting the pieces together,” Rusz said she is now “150 percent sure” it was Gonzalez.
After finding out Gonzalez was living at the KHK fraternity, she said she tried to warn the residents about him, but they rejected her theory, contesting it was the “craziest story they had ever heard.”
KHK representatives declined to comment.
Since he was arrested, Rusz informed police that she believes it was Gonzalez that broke into her house, she said.
According to police records, Gonzalez has been arrested three times in Minnesota on several different charges, including motor vehicle theft and fleeing from police.
Gonzalez also has a criminal history in several other states, including an arrest in Nebraska by University of Omaha police, Stiller said.
Stiller said he has uncovered at least 13 of Gonzalez’s aliases, including Paul Dominique, his identity at Macy’s.
“He used some kind of fake documents to get his job there,” Stiller said. “I’m not 100 percent sure his name is Daniel Gonzalez.”
A BREACH IN SECURITY
Gonzalez was renting a room at the KHK fraternity using the alias Anthony Martines, but there may be more to that identity than just a made-up name.
Upon arresting Gonzalez, Stiller said he discovered a University identification card in Gonzalez’s billfold with Gonzalez’s picture and the name Anthony Martines.
Stiller said the card “looked real, like the ‘U’ had made it.”
According to University student directory records, there is an Anthony Martines enrolled in the College of Continuing Education and living at the KHK residence.
How was someone able to register at the University under a fake name? And why would someone go through the trouble?
Investigator Aaron Churness of the University Police Department said he thinks enrolling in CCE using an alias is “painfully easy, unfortunately,” and has happened before.
Tony Scott, CCE learner representative, said potential students have the option of registering under nonadmitted status.
However, if a student is registered under the nonadmitted status, the U Card they receive has limited access, Scott said.
It is unclear whether Gonzalez was registered as an admitted student.
As far as Gonzalez’s motives, Churness could only speculate.
“He was living the life here. I mean, he’s an older guy hanging around with a bunch of college kids, going to parties, socializing,” Churness said. “Who knows what his motives are? Maybe he doesn’t even know what they are. This is just his next stop in life, and now he’s sitting in jail.”