The San Diego woman accused of stealing wallets and credit cards from brides, wedding parties and guests has a long criminal history including nine previous felony convictions, prosecutors said Thursday.
Denise Gunderson appeared in a San Diego courtroom and pleaded not guilty to 25 counts ranging from burglary theft to identity theft.
Gunderson is accused of posing as a wedding guest while going through purses and other personal bags belonging to brides and their guests. The alleged crimes occurred in Pala Mesa, Coronado, Carlton Oaks and David's Bridal, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors claim she made thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card charges. Victims' credit cards were used at large retailers like Costco, Walmart and Target to buy gift cards and other related items, police said.
In court Thursday, Gunderson, who also goes by the name Denise Burns, hung her head and covered her face with her hair.
Deputy District Attorney Brendan McHugh asked for $100,000 bail, explaining the defendant has nine felony priors and seven prison priors. McHugh said he believed Gunderson was a flight risk.
However, Judge David Szumowski set bail at $250,000.
She was arrested in Las Vegas on December 6, accused of stealing a wallet at a church. Investigators said she initially lied about her identity. They soon discovered she was wanted on mutliple charges out of San Diego and Riverside Counties.
Gunderson was captured on surveillance cameras using credit cards from stolen brides at local stores, police said. Sometimes the purchases were made just minutes after the brides walked down the aisle.
Newlywed Michelle Tietz told NBC 7 her credit cards were stolen on June 7 during her wedding at the Pala Mesa resort in Fallbrook. More than $1,000 charges were made on her card, she realized it when her and her husband were getting ready to leave on their honeymoon.
“I walked out of the bridal suite about 6:08 p.m. and the first charge was 6:32," Tietz said.
Yvette Lynch, the catering director at Santee’s Carlton Oaks Golf Course, had her wallet stolen from the purse she left in her office during a wedding.
“I think initially the target for this event was the wedding, but we keep the bridal quarters secure,” Lynch told NBC 7.
She shared surveillance video with NBC 7 that showed a woman walking around the golf course the day of the theft, allegedly posing as a lost guest.
An investigator said Denise Burns was charged in 2012, accused of sneaking into teachers’ classrooms in Temecula and stealing their wallets when they were out of class.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department officials said a friend of the defendant, Sheila Russo, is wanted as a co-conspirator in the crime spree. She faces charges ranging from identity theft and forgery to burglary.
Gunderson's next court hearing is scheduled for January 12, 2016. If convicted on all charges, she faces up to 19 years in prison.
McHugh said it is possible there may be other victims and he suggests anyone who feels they may have been targeted by Gunderson should call the authorities. If you have any information about this case, you can contact NBC 7 Investigates at (619) 578-0393.