FBI used social media to find Philadelphia woman who allegedly lit two Philadelphia police vehicles on fire.
Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, age 33, has been charged with arson following photo evidence of the arson of two Philadelphia police vehicles during a George Floyd killing protest. The FBI developed initial leads from photo posts on Instagram, and then checked a 5-star rating by a purchaser on Etsy. The user name on Etsy associated with the review led investigators to a clothing exchange online and social commerce marketplace platform known as Poshmark, where users can buy and sell new or used clothing, shoes, and fashion accessories.
Poshmark has headquarters in Redwood Shores, California. Etsy has headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Instagram, owned by Facebook, has headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 that Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 33, of Philadelphia, PA has been charged by criminal complaint for the arson of two Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) vehicles.
The defendant is currently in federal custody and had her initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday June 16, 2020. The government will be filing a motion for the defendant to be detained pending trial. Blumenthal was arrested by federal agents on Monday June 15, 2020.
The female/white suspect was wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans, a brown-green backpack, gray fire-resistant gloves, a multi-colored mask, and black boots.
Physical description details, including race, gender, clothing and accessories, were comprised from news helicopter video.
Identifying photos, including photos at street level, were matched to an Instagram account that showed a stylized peace symbol on the suspect’s right forearm.
The suspect’s T-Shirt read “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists.”
Investigators tracked multiple user names on a variety of social media and social media/commerce websites to identify and locate the suspect.
The suspect lived in a Germantown row home in northern Philadelphia, and responded to arresting federal agents with, “I have rights.”
The suspect worked alone at her massage therapy business in north Philadelphia.
The suspect’s father, Bernhardt “Bernie” Blumenthal, died at age 75 in September 2012, and was a LaSalle University professor who chaired the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures for the private university in Philadelphia (Philadelphia Inquirer death notice).
Following peaceful protests in the early afternoon of May 30, 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, civil unrest began to unfold later that afternoon in Philadelphia that resulted in widespread looting, burglary, arson, destruction of property, and other violent acts.
On that day, two vehicles, one PPD sedan (number 2514) and one PPD sport utility vehicle (number 1612), were parked on the north side of City Hall in Philadelphia. During the violent episodes that began around City Hall that afternoon, Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal allegedly set fire to both vehicles. According to the complaint, various videos taken at the scene captured the defendant wearing protective goggles and gloves, taking a flaming piece of wooden police barricade from the rear window of the PPD sedan that was already on fire, and then shoving the flaming wood into the PPD SUV that was not on fire. Within minutes, the PPD SUV was also completely engulfed in flames. As result of the fires, both PPD vehicles were destroyed.
“We at the U.S. Attorney’s Office fully support the First Amendment right of the people to assemble peaceably and to petition their government. But torching a police car has nothing to do with peaceful protest or any legitimate message. It is a violent and despicable act that will be prosecuted in this District to the fullest extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “Anybody who engaged in such acts can stand by to put your hands behind your back and head to federal prison. We are coming for you.”
“During the past several weeks, multitudes of people peacefully and lawfully exercised their First Amendment right to protest,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “However, there were individuals who chose to use the protests as an opportunity to engage in criminal activity. Some of these individuals’ actions were malicious, destructive, and could have resulted in critical injuries to others. We are privileged to have worked, and will continue to work, with our partners in law enforcement to investigate, identify and hold accountable the persons who committed these unlawful acts.”
“Our communities deserve to be safe from these types of violent crimes,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge John Schmidt. “Everybody deserves to be safe from violent criminals utilizing dangerous methods to destroy our neighborhoods and property. ATF will always work with our local, state and federal partners to investigate and arrest the criminals who choose to use arson to commit their crimes and terrorize the public.”
“Masses of people took to the streets of Philadelphia on May 30, 2020 exercising their right to peacefully protest,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “They were there to send a message in which they truly believed. Sprinkled among the crowd, though, were agitators, whose sole purpose was to commit crimes and cause chaos. As alleged, Blumenthal came prepared for just that, carrying out these arsons that destroyed property and put many lives at risk. Sadly, such acts also hijacked the message of the day’s demonstrators, whose calls for change were obscured for a time by the smoke from all those fires. Working with our law enforcement partners, the FBI is committed to bringing to justice those responsible for violent acts during the otherwise peaceful protests in Philadelphia.”
“Homeland Security Investigations fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference, including through peaceful assembly and protest,” said Brian A. Michael, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Philadelphia (Homeland Security Investigation). “Unfortunately, a number of protestors enticed violence that resulted in destruction of property throughout the City of Philadelphia. In instances like these, HSI works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to ensure those who inflict damage that impacts the safety and security of our community are held accountable.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of eighty years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $500,000.
An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
— The United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Pennsylvania
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office, with assistance from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Blumenthal’s attorney says the federal government has made a political decision by selecting her case. Philadelphia Criminal Defense and Civil Rights Attorney Paul Hetznecker said that the federal government’s use of social media websites involves using surveillance techniques to investigate those who are involved in political protest activities.
Lore Elisabeth Blumenthal is charged with arson and held by federal authorities without bail.
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Instagram, Etsy Sale, Tattoo: How the FBI found woman accused of torching Philadelphia Police Vehicles | NBC10 Philadelphia (NBC10 video shows suspect’s professional website and a screenshot of a promotional video on a vimeo user channel that shows the suspect’s stylized peace sign on her right forearm).
Authorities used helicopter video feeds, such as video shown here, and popular websites including Etsy, Poshmark and LinkedIn to identify a woman who has since been charged for the arson of two Philadelphia police vehicles during the unrest that followed peaceful protests on May 30, 2020.