A woman suspected of sneaking into bridal rooms and stealing wallets during wedding ceremonies has been arrested in Las Vegas, according to San Diego County Sheriff’s investigators.
Denise Gunderson, also known as Denise Burns, was captured by surveillance cameras in San Diego stores using credit cards stolen from brides and bridesmaids sometimes moments after the victims walked down the aisle, authorities said.
Burns was arrested Sunday in Nevada and taken into custody on charges of stealing a wallet at a church, investigators said. Though she lied about her identity, detectives soon discovered she was wanted on mutliple charges out of San Diego and Riverside, California.
Det. Rich Holder said Burns would show up at wedding ceremonies and steals wallets, credit cards and personal identification cards belonging to the wedding party, wedding coordinator and other guests. She's been linked to wedding thefts from Coronado to La Mesa, according to investigators.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department officials said a friend of Burns', Sheila Russo, is wanted as a co-conspirator in the crime spree. Russo, 51, is accused of using the stolen identities, officials said Tuesday.
NBC 7 first reported the crime spree in July after newlywed Michelle Tietz, whose credit cards were stolen during her Temecula ceremony, posted surveillance pictures on her Facebook page hoping someone would come forward to help solve the case.
"I walked out of the bridal suite about 6:08 p.m. and the first charge was 6:32 p.m.," Tietz said of purchases made with her credit card.
She said someone charged $1,400 to her card, beginning with a gas station along State Route 76, then at a number of stores in Escondido, including Target, T.J. Maxx, Albertsons and CVS.
Tietz said she and her husband were getting gas, preparing to leave for their honeymoon when she realized her card had been stolen.
"It wasn’t a nice thing. She did it not only to me, but numerous brides and she continued to do it," Tietz said.
Her Facebook post connected her with Yvette Lynch, the catering director at Santee’s Carlton Oaks Golf Course, who said her wallet was stolen from the purse she left in her office during a wedding.
Officials released surveillance video showing Burns walking around the golf course the day of the theft, allegedly posing as a lost guest.
Victims' credit cards have been used at large retailers like Costco, Walmart and Target to buy gift cards and other related items, Holder said.
"Burns knows there’s a short window in which once the card is stolen that she may have only a few hours or even a few minutes to get out there and start conducting unauthorized transactions from these victims," Holder said.
The lead detective on the case said Burns was charged in 2012 with sneaking into teachers’ classrooms in Temecula and stealing their wallets when they were out of class.
NBC 7 spoke Wednesday night with Tietz, who called Burns’ arrest an early Christmas gift — one she had been waiting for since her wedding over the summer.
"(I) can’t be happier. I’m ready for her extradition, ready to appear in court and look her in the eye and let her know what she did to me," Tietz told NBC 7. "I can’t be more pleased she’s off the streets and it won’t happen to another bride."
Burns is facing multiple charges of burglary, identity theft and grand theft. She is currently at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas and will be extradited back to San Diego, where she will face several counts stemming from her alleged scheme.
If you have any information about this case, contact NBC 7 Investigates at 619-578-0393.
Anyone who thinks they were victimized is asked to call the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department non-emergency line is 951-955-2400. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department non-emergency line is 858-565-5200.