The trailer was parked awaiting delivery to a Target warehouse in Cedar Falls when it was stolen Dec. 10 from a parking lot in Elk Run Heights near Waterloo. It was found Dec. 15 in a parking lot more than 500 miles away in Fowler, Mich.
Waterloo police Capt. Rick Abben said the trailer had arrived early and had to be parked until the warehouse was ready to take it in. When a truck came to get the trailer, it was gone, he said.
It was the latest in a series of semitrailer thefts in the Waterloo area during the past 18 months, Abben said. The others included a trailer filled with beef jerky, one loaded with dog food and one carrying dental hygiene products, Abben said.
All but the one of the trailers have been recovered, he said.
"When these people hook up to these things, how do they know what's in there unless you break the seal and look inside?" Abben said. "You kind of wonder, if I open a trailer and saw it had $50,000 of margarine or $50,000 of TVs, which one would you rather have?
"And how in the world do you get rid of $50,000 of margarine?"
As first reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, a report from the Illinois-based National Insurance Crime Bureau showed there were 747 reports of cargo theft across the country in 2010, with truck stops, parking lots, warehouses and port cities being the most common crime scenes.
About $171 million in goods were taken from trucks, trains and airplanes, according to the report released in May.
The organization calls cargo theft a "low-risk crime with high-profit potential."
The report lists only two cargo thefts in Iowa in 2010, both in the Quad Cities area.