Original Article: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2015/07/28/pirate-like-thief-buries-treasure-flees-country-feds-say/30814077/
Homeland Security agents are hunting a fugitive suspected of digging up buried treasure from his rural property near Milford and fleeing the United States amid a federal investigation. Federal court records filed Monday describe daring crimes and an alleged thief involved in a criminal ring that acted like a band of pirates, stealing booty — including electronics and designer duds — and hiding the loot. Viorel Pricop, 57, of Highland Township, allegedly fled to Canada in February after admitting he was involved in transporting cargo stolen from semitrailers. He left behind more than $1 million in merchandise seized at his home and big-ticket items allegedly purchased with money from various crimes, including a $500,000 Ferrari. He also left behind fear among neighbors, already rattled by at least two federal raids, that there still might be buried treasure near the home that is fronted by two giant golden lion sculptures, in a remote, rural corner of Oakland County. “Everybody was really freaked out about this,” next-door neighbor Daniel Hoops told The Detroit News. “If somebody is sneaking over there looking for buried treasure, I don’t want to stumble into them.” Viorel Pricop’s neighbors fear there still might be buried treasure near the home in a remote, rural corner of Oakland County. The investigation dates to last year, when law enforcement officers started probing a series of cargo thefts along Interstate 40 in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Someone was stealing electronics and other merchandise from trailers parked at truck stops. Earlier this year, trucking companies started to strike back. One company installed GPS tracking devices inside boxes of Bose stereos being hauled from New Mexico. The shipment was stolen. On Feb. 15, 2015, Michigan State Police troopers tracked some of the equipment to a rental storage unit on Grand River in Lyon Township. Troopers ran into Pricop at the storage unit. The trucking company owner admitted owning the storage unit and transporting the stolen equipment to Michigan, according to court records. Pricop said he made similar trips every two to three weeks. Troopers found two pallets of stolen baby food along with stolen televisions, stereo equipment, video conferencing equipment, clothes and household items. In all, a haul worth $600,000. Pricop said he was paid as much as $2,000 per pallet of stolen goods. Once the merchandise arrived in Michigan, Pricop said he would transfer them to another person. It does not appear that Pricop, who is a legal permanent U.S. resident from Romania, was arrested. Three days later, federal agents raided his property and found a large amount of stolen merchandise inside a pole barn, according to federal court records. They also found a large brown box containing bundles of marijuana and two pistols. Also in the pole barn, investigators found empty storage tubes that were 3 feet long and 10 inches in diameter. “Law enforcement is aware that commercial versions of these types of devices are for sale for the sole purpose of sealing and burying high-value items,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Beck wrote in a court filing Monday. The tubes are a great way to hide evidence or fruits of a crime, said Keith Corbett, a veteran defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “It’s smart. I like it,” he said. “It wouldn’t be picked up by a metal detector. If you seal up both ends, you’re not going to get animals or water in there. It’s a pretty smart way to hide stuff if you bury it before the ground freezes and you know where it is.” With spring months away, and snow and frost covering the ground outside Pricop’s home, agents waited to search the 20-acre-plus property. Meanwhile, the same day agents raided his home, Pricop, his wife Mihaela and three sons crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. They were traveling in a car borrowed from a family friend. Though the wife and children returned to the U.S., Pricop remains missing and is considered a fugitive, according to court records. On Feb. 19, one day after Pricop disappeared, federal prosecutors charged him with transporting stolen property across state lines — a 10-year felony. On April 1, after the snow melted, agents returned to his sprawling property on Rowe Road, west of Milford High School, with another search warrant, hunting for buried treasure. Agents were looking for stolen items and buried storage tubes containing cash and other valuables, according to federal court records. They found PVC tubes sprinkled across the property, but they were empty. “A canine trained to identify currency positively alerted to an empty tube located in the pole barn on the property,” Beck wrote in a federal court filing Monday. Agents found more than $1 million worth of merchandise during the two searches, including a red 2012 Ferrari FF worth $490,000, a silver 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS worth $197,000, printers, computer tablets, more than 500 pieces of designer clothes, industrial machinery, handguns and other electronics. The haul from the April search filled three 27-foot box trucks. “Our search of the entire site was exhaustive and thorough so the likelihood of additional items being found is remote,” Homeland Security spokesman Khaalid Walls said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked a federal judge Monday to have most of the merchandise and property — including Pricop’s house, a second home nearby, patio furniture, electronics and a showroom’s worth of designer clothes — forfeited to the government. The property is either stolen or purchased with money tied to banking and money laundering crimes, according to court records. The Pricops spent more than $1 million cash between 2010 and 2014 on the Ferrari, the Mercedes-Benz and other purchases, prosecutors allege. The couple also paid $35,941 cash for tuition at Detroit Country Day School, according to court records. Mihaela Pricop’s lawyer declined comment on the family’s whereabouts. “She’s a housewife and a mother to young children,” lawyer John Freeman of Troy said. “The government seems to have an interesting theory. I’m more interested in knowing what the proof is. If a regular person takes something they don’t own, it’s called stealing. If the government does it, it’s called civil forfeiture.” Hoops, the next-door neighbor, was not concerned about the government trying to keep Pricop’s house, or the pair of gaudy gold lions out front. “When I bought my house, and looked next door, I thought ‘what is up with those lions?’ ” Hoops said. “I’d like to take one and put it in the woods.”
Original Article: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2015/07/28/pirate-like-thief-buries-treasure-flees-country-feds-say/30814077/
The theft of truckloads of merchandise is much more common than the general public thinks, according to a trucking expert.
People are talking about these types of thefts following reports that two trailers full of Columbia Sportswear products were stolen early Sunday morning in London.
A pair of transport trucks were first stolen from TriSec Warehousing Ltd. The trucks were then driven to Columbia Sportswear and hooked onto two trailers full of Columbia product at about 5 a.m. Sunday, London police said.
"In this industry, we know it's not the opportunistic criminal that's identifying a whole truckload of merchandise and says: 'Hey, this looks like something fun to steal'," said Jennifer Fox, vice-president of trade and security with the Ontario Trucking Association. "What we have is a very organized criminal element in place."
In this particular case in London, it seems the thieves knew what they were looking for and what they were doing, Fox said in an interview with CBC News.
"What we had is drivers who actually know how to operate a transport truck, which is not an easy thing to do and they also have the necessary network in place to sense those goods — get them to market, get them out of the truck, get rid of them and then ditch the truck somewhere."
Thieves hungry for food products to nabAccording to research of cargo thefts by the Ontario Trucking Association, food products are the number one commodity being stolen, as well as house hold products. The reason? They're easy to off-load and get rid of quickly.
"What the criminals are looking for are anything they can get their hands on and get rid of relatively quickly," she said.
There is also a high demand for food and household items year-round, she said.
Fox added that cargo theft is also often not reported, making it difficult for her organization to pinpoint how frequently they occur.
"We have, for years, been trying to bring more attention to the issue," she said. "Initially, I think there was hesitation from the trucking industry to start talking about this issue and how often it's happening. There's a real fear about the negative image that can be conjured up by your customers and the public if you seem to be victimized by this."
More trucking companies are, however, coming forward with information about thefts, Fox said. There's a level of frustration in the industry that it seems the criminals are getting more sophisticated in how they operate.
"They have things such as GPS blockers now, so you put a GPS on your trailer and the criminal element can use these GPS blockers and essentially block that signal," she said.
The more the industry discusses the issues, the more comfortable and motivated members feel to stop it, Fox said.
HILLSBOROUGH (FOX 13) -The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office thwarted a massive pharmaceutical drug heist during an undercover sting that resulted in the arrest of two truck drivers.
April 16th, detectives arrested Jose Levy-Ibanez, 46, and Arnaldo Zaldivar, 53, on several drug related and grand theft charges.
The day before, a confidential informant tipped off the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.
"We received information that there was going to be a hijacking of a tractor trailer full of pharmaceuticals," Maj. J.R. Burton said.
According to the sheriff's office, Ibanez was hired to drive the truck from a pharmaceutical warehouse in Lakeland to one in Atlanta, GA.
Instead, deputies say, Ibanez met up with Zaldivar at a truck stop in Sumter County, the two disabled a GPS unit in the truck and switched places.
Ibanez continued north toward Atlanta with the GPS unit now in a car, and Zaldivar drove the truck south toward Tampa.
"We, of course, had surveillance on the truck the entire time," Maj. Burton said.
Undercover detectives arranged to buy a portion of the load from Zaldivar at a truck stop off U.S. 301 north of I-4.
"He then parked, met our undercover detective. They negotiated a price for the load, and at that point we arrested him," Maj. Burton said.
The sheriff's office believes the truck was destined for Miami possibly to be smuggled overseas.
"A load that size you have to have a pretty large scale buyer. That's not something that you would disperse out on the street," Maj. Burton said.
The cargo theft data collected during the months of January, February and March of 2015
and used in this analysis continue to designate strong and consistent patterns in key areas,
including where and when cargo thieves prefer to strike and the products they target to
BY JAMES JAILLET
The average value lost per cargo theft incident rose 36 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, and the cargo theft threat level for 2015 remains high, according to cargo theft prevention firm FreightWatch International, who issued its 2014 cargo theft report this week.
The report says:
The average value lost per load in 2014 was $232,924
The number of reported thefts in the year totaled 794, a 12 percent drop from 2013
There were an average of 2.2 thefts per day.
cargo theft map
FreightWatch’s Hot Spot map
FreightWatch says cargo thieves in the U.S. are becoming more sophisticated, with data “suggesting organized thieves offset the lack of access to a high quantity of shipments by targeting higher value merchandise,” the report notes.
Stolen loads of electronics were one of the main drivers of the increase, as electronics thefts valued at more than $1 million tripled in 2014 from 2013, the report says.
The report details what was being stolen:
Food and drink loads topped the list at 19 percent
Electronics loads accounted for 16 percent of all thefts in 2014, second on the most targeted list
Home/garden loads accounted for 14 percent of 2014’s total
Nearly all of the cargo thefts in 2014 occurred in just five states: Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey
And 90 percent of the year’s cargo thefts occurred while the truck was stationary or unattended, FreightWatch says. Related to that figure is the number of thefts occurring at what FreighWatch deems “unsecured parking” areas like truck stops. Lack of secured parking accounted for 87 percent of thefts, according to the report.
Concerning trends for 2015 include growing use of technology like jammers and more sophisticated tactics of surveying and targeting high value loads, FreightWatch says.
“The trend of increased targeting signals the necessity for industry leaders to improve security posture while simultaneously preparing for an escalated threat,” the report says.
Electronics loads accounted for 16 percent of all thefts in 2014, second on the most targeted list. Food and drink loads topped the list at 19 percent, while home/garden loads accounted for 14 percent of 2014’s total.
Police officers say they are searching for two men who shot a truck driver and then stole his trailer in northwest Atlanta.
The violent hijacking happened on Marietta Street and Perry Boulevard early Tuesday morning.
According to investigators, the truck driver was leaving the Norfolk Southern train yard when he was held up by two men. During the hijacking, the victim was shot in the head.
Channel 2’s Sophia Choi spoke to investigators at the scene.
“They forced him out of the truck, a struggle ensued, the victim was shot once. He had a graze wound to the head. He has been transported to Grady Hospital and is in stable condition at this time,” said Atlanta Police Capt. Terrell Griffin.
Investigators are searching for the rest of the man's rig, after finding the cab in DeKalb County. The truck's cab had a GPS tracker but the trailer does not.
“We're looking for a JB Hunt truck, a white cab, white trailer and the vehicle has homegood items, which is furniture,” Griffin said.
Investigators are going back to the areas where they know the truck stopped, before the thieves dumped the cab.
They're hoping clues in those areas will lead to the two thieves.
BY MARK GREEN
SALT LAKE CITY – Two men who were arrested in Utah with a semitrailer and more than 5,000 pairs of shoes that were reported stolen in Oregon have been indicted for interstate transportation of stolen property and re-entering the country after a previous deportation.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Juan Carlos Andino-Mejia, 24 of Los Angeles and a citizen of Honduras, and Marlon Emilio Vasquez-Garcia, 45 of Los Angeles and a citizen of El Salvador, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Utah Wednesday.
The indictment alleges the men transported 5,820 pairs of Keen Shoes with a value of more than $5,000 from Multnomah County, Oregon to Box Elder County, Utah. Police stated earlier they estimated the value of the stolen footwear at more than $1 million.The shoes were in a semitrailer that was reported stolen from a trucking company in Oregon.
The trucking company provided law enforcement with GPS coordinates from the truck, which was located by police at a truck stop in Box Elder County on March 23. The men were arrested by local police, and ICE Enforcement and Removal officers also contributed to the investigation.
Police stated at the time of the arrest that the men lacked documentation to confirm their identities and that they provided agents with, “some vague information about how they’d come into possession of the semi-truck and what they were planning to do with it.”
The press release states the two men have used a variety of names and “have had multiple deportations from the United States.”
The men each face up to 10 years in prison for one count of interstate transportation of stolen goods and up to 10 years in prison for one count of re-entering the country after a previous deportation, according to the press release.
Indictments are not findings of guilt, and individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until they are proven guilty in court. The initial court date for the pair has not yet been scheduled.
By WAYNE FORD
A Hambersham County man is charged with stealing nearly $1 million in products from a warehouse distribution center in Jackson County, authorities said Friday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged Russell Scott Tittle, 42, of Clarkesville, with four counts of cargo theft, a new law passed last year to combat the growing crime of thefts at distribution centers, rail yards and sea ports, according to John Cannon, GBI agent in charge of a special Major Theft Unit based in Conyers.
Tittle, who was employed by a company moving products at the distribution center, remained in the Jackson County Jail on Friday without bond.
The GBI began its investigation in late January, soon after Reckitt Benckiser, a 40-000-square-foot distribution center in Jefferson, reported to Jefferson police that two trailers full of products were missing, according to Jefferson Police Investigator Sgt. James McNatt. Among the items missing in large quantities congestion medicine, police said.
“We’re still investigating and I think there will be other parties who will be arrested,” said McNatt, who said the case was turned over to the GBI.
The investigation led to the recovery of between $750,000 to $800,000 of the $974,000 worth of stolen products, which included over-the-counter medications and food, Cannon said.
Investigators were able to find leads in the case in nearby counties, including Franklin and Madison counties, authorities said.
“We’re one of the main states in the country for cargo theft and that’s why (the state) passed the law,” Cannon said, adding the theft rate is a combination of factors including the interstate highway system that supports trucking, the number of distribution centers and sea ports.
“We have the perfect mix for cargo thieves,” Cannon said.
Follow writer Wayne Ford on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WayneFordABH