Police: Kids used to steal from charity

March 22, 2010 3:23:27 PM PDT
Two Houston women are in custody, accused of taking donations out of charity boxes, like the ones set up in shopping center parking lots a across the area. Police say they were using children to get the items out. The two women now jailed are said to work at a Houston flea market and police claim that the items they allegedly took from the donation boxes were intended for resale there. But what they are actually charged with is not theft but using children to fish the items out of the boxes.

It's where gently used items can be donated to charity. What drives it is a desire to give to others without money to buy some of the basics.

"Just old clothes that I couldn't wear anymore, my brothers' stuff that they couldn't wear anymore ... to give to somebody who needs it," said resident Mindy Lonis.

Saturday night at a pair of donation boxes in Lake Jackson, according to police two women were helping themselves to sacks of donated items. Miriam Judith Miranda and Lisset Valencia, both of Houston, are charged not with theft, but child endangerment and abandonment. They're accused by police of placing a pair of 11-year-old girls, at least one of whom was Miranda's daughter, into the boxes to get what was inside.

Lt. Rick Park with the Lake Jackson Police Department explained, "They were actually picking the children up and placing them into the opening. They were going through the door and into the unit and getting the items back out."

Police say a witness called authorities. The women's van was pulled over and three children -- the two girls and a four-year-old boy said to be a brother to one girl -- were found in the back, sitting on bags of clothes, police say. The girls talked.

"They were embarrassed," said Lt. Park. "They felt badly about being involved in a situation like that. They seemed aware of the wrongness."

The children are reportedly with a father and a caretaker now. People in Lake Jackson are appalled, to put it mildly, not only for the idea of stealing charity donations, but allegedly involving kids to do it.

"That's something they're going to end up thinking that's how life is," resident Santos Morales.

Both women remain in jail. Their bond is set at $20,000 each and ICE has placed immigration holds on both of them. Lake Jackson police tried to reach the Houston-based charities to press theft charges but their phone calls were not returned in time, so the bags of donations were released, along with the impounded van to one of the suspect's husbands.


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