Years of Swindling Lead to L.A. Woman’s Arrest in S.B.

Officials Say Identity Theft, Credit Card Fraud Fueled “Jet Set Lifestyle” Since 1997

On April 28, Maria Christina Johnson was arrested at a high-end Santa Barbara hotel on the 1200 block of Channel Drive on suspicion of identity theft and credit card fraud. In what reads like a movie script, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department press release describes Johnson living a life of luxury, all of it being funded by a string of identity and credit card thefts dating all the way back to 1997.

Maria Christina Johnson

A self-proclaimed “dog trainer,” Johnson has no proven source of income of her own. She used her good looks to lure in victims, whom she found on various dating apps and even real estate sites. Once she had gained the potential victim’s trust and obtained access to their house, Johnson would steal any personal information she could. She would change the victim’s mailing address to match her own. From there, it was a simple step to open up lines of credit and assume the victim’s identity.

According to the press release, “Johnson’s elevated sense of entitlement compelled her to go to great lengths in aggressively assuming identities.” Using multiple fake names, Johnson would make appointments to view expensive real estate. Once she stole a broker’s identity. In one case, she switched a victim’s phone number to her own phone. In another, while running up thousands of dollars on a hotel tab, she attempted to buy a car with a fake identity. Johnson is currently accused of stealing over a quarter of a million dollars, with investigators expecting more victims to come forward.

This isn’t Johnson’s first brush with the law. She was arrested in 2008 on 11 similar felony charges ranging from identity theft to credit card fraud. She served a short prison term in the City of Torrance.

For now, investigators from a high-tech security task force out of L.A. are running the case. The task force includes members of Homeland Security, the FBI, and numerous local police agencies, with a unit specifically focused on identity theft cases. If anyone has information on the case or thinks they may be one of Johnson’s victims, they are encouraged to call Detectives Ned Russell and Duane Decker at (818) 576-8884.

Johnson — who has gone by Maria Hendricks, Gia Hendricks, Maria Christina Gia, and Maria Hainka in the past — is being held at Lynwood’s Century Regional Detention Facility on $2 million bail.


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