I-Team: Salvation Army bell ringer accused of stealing from shopper

The FOX 8 I-Team has found charges filed against a man who worked over the holidays ringing a bell and collecting donations for the Salvation Army.

Investigators believe Victor Torres Agudo took a shopper’s cell phone and credit cards out of a cart as he took in donations in Westlake. The victim’s husband later led police to the suspect by checking a feature to find lost phones.

At first, Susan Smith Premen never gave a second thought to the man ringing the bell. She just realized her phone was gone, and she tried retracing her steps.

Ed Premen and his kids later tracked the signal to Cleveland’s west side. They tracked it right to a guy ringing a Salvation Army bell. Police found he was the same man who’d been collecting when Susan’s phone disappeared.

Ed Premen said, "And when I pulled in, I saw this Salvation Army gentleman outside the store. And I thought, no way he's got the phone." He added, "I was just shocked because whenever I see someone from the Salvation Army, I donate. It's just shocking."

The I-Team found the man busted in this case has been indicted again and again over more than 20 years. He’s faced charges for stolen property, burglary, theft and more. So we wondered: How was a guy like that trusted to handle your donations on the streets?

The Salvation Army says Torres Agudo was a temporary worker making minimum wage. And, the Salvation Army says it didn’t do background checks on kettle workers since a huge number of them were hired quickly for the holiday season.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Jennifer O’Malley said, "The property was given back to the victim.” She added, police helped get back the phone and credit cards. Now, to get justice. O’Malley said, "It's definitely something that we are going forward with prosecuting, and we just want people to know that you're not gonna be able to get away with that."

Susan Smith Premen hopes, most of all, the man arrested gets help straightening out his life. She said, "I was really surprised."

Records show the suspect lives at a halfway house. We went there. No luck finding him.

Meantime, this comes as the Salvation Army says it just raised $4 million in Northeast Ohio in a matter of weeks. That money will go to help the needy with food, clothing, utilities and more. Plus, it will help fund youth programs and programs for senior citizens.