San Diego Police Department

NBC 7 Viewer's Tip Helps SDPD Track Down Man Accused of Stealing Pizza Joint Owner's Purse

Thieves stole restaurant owner Mona Aquino's purse and her identity, then went on a shopping spree

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“The minute we disclosed their faces, that tipster guy called the next day.”

Mona Aquino remembered the excitement when she learned someone recognized the people in her security video suspected of stealing her purse.

Aquino owns Pauly’s Pizza Joint in Miramar. Last month, San Diego Police said a man and a woman walked into the small pizzeria and walked out with Aquino’s purse. She didn't realize it was gone until several hours later.

Aquino said her life was in the purse that was smuggled out by the woman in the video.

“It has all my DNA,” she said.

“They stole credit cards, identity documents, cash and blank checks,” SDPD Lt. Charles Lara said. “Everything that is needed for an identity thief to ruin your life.”

Thieves spent thousands at Costco and drained Aquino's unemployment account before she could alert her banks. She said she’s still receiving new fraud alerts. The most recent notice came from car rental company Budget.

“It’s a letter saying, ‘We need our car back,'’’ Aquino said, allowing herself to laugh. “'It’s under your name.'”

“[Identity thieves] go out there and they abuse your good name and your good credit,” Lt. Lara said.

Lara said thankfully Aquino’s restaurant’s security camera caught a glimpse of the duo.

NBC 7's Joe Little spoke to the owner about what was taken from her, and what she found through support from the community.

That surveillance video and the story that [NBC 7] profiled led to a good citizen making an anonymous tip,” Lara said.

The viewer's tip led SDPD investigators to a hotel in Oceanside where they arrested 47-year-old Brandon Ruiz and 44-year-old Noushig Charshfijan, according to Lara. They were found in possession of methamphetamine, one of Aquino’s credit cards, and they were making counterfeit money, Lara said.

“It brings me nothing but pleasure to see them arrested,” he said.

According to Lara, Ruiz was the man in Aquino’s restaurant in January. However, Charshfijan is an accomplice. Lara said he believes they all “operate in the same circle” with the woman who walked out with Aquino’s purse.

“We would very much like to meet and arrest her as soon as possible,” Lara said. He said the two under arrest chose to volunteer the woman's name.

Lara said Aquino’s case serves as a reminder to everyone about the dangers of identity theft, which is becoming more common.

The Lieutenant suggests keeping your important documents in separate places and keeping copies of everything in a secure location.

“Positive things will come along,” sighed Aquino. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

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