WBBH-TV : By Andy Pierotti
The NBC2 investigators takes you inside a theft ring so big, Florida law enforcement says you're likely a witness to it each time you hit the intestate. Commercial cargo theft runs in the billions of dollars, hitting a record high last year. NBC2 Investigator Andy Pierrotti explains its impact to consumers. Last year, criminals stole a cargo container every two days in Florida, costing more than $26 million. Marion county detectives know the problem all too well. "They're professional drivers. They know what it feels like to pick up a trailer, "says Marion County Detective Erik Dice. To combat the issue, his office sets up undercover sting operations where they put cargo containers in nearby gas stations in hopes of someone stealing it. Criminals take the bait too. Video obtained by NBC2 shows the county putting up a helicopter just minutes after a device attached to the cargo container notifies authorities it's stolen and on the road. In less than 15 minutes, investigators pull the driver over and arrest him. The operation highlights a billion dollar black market business where criminals steal cargo containers right under drivers' noses. "They're just like the ninja. They're here, there and they're gone," said driver Tom Strang. Criminals then sell it to the highest bidder. "They'll steal anything. From race car tires, to bottled water hurricane supplies to pharmaceuticals," said Det. Dice. In 2008, Lee County Sheriff's deputies recovered an empty stolen tracker trailer behind a gas station near the airport. It was once filled with more than $6 million of pharmaceutical drugs. "That's a typical case that we come across on a daily basis," said Lt. Twan Uptgrow, with Miami-Date Police. He leads a taskforce that combats cargo theft in South Florida called TOMCATS, or the Tactical Operations Multi- Agency Cargo Anti-Theft Squad. Cargo theft is not a victimless crime. When a criminal steals a cargo container, retailers have to make up the loss somehow. That means, prices for nearly every product you buy is higher because of a cargo theft. The crime cost companies nearly $30 billion a year. Cargo theft can happen anywhere, but most thieves will seize the opportunity when a driver leaves his truck unattended at a gas station. While it's a national problem, there are more thefts connected to Florida than any other state. "A big majority of those goods end up in Miami," said Lt. William Jackson, with Florida's Highway Patrol. From Miami, the cargo is then loaded onto cargo ships and sold overseas for pure profit. Florida Highway Patrol started tracking cargo theft in 2008, but as of now, not all local law enforcement is required to report it to them There are few arrests, but when someone is charged and convicted, jail time is almost always more lenient than robbing a bank. The average bank robber gets away with less than $10,000, while cargo thieves usually walk away with anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million.
Published Thursday July 21st, 2011
Organized truck thieves have infiltrated New Brunswick in a big way this month, hauling off with several tractor-trailers and scoring piles of valuable cargo in the process.
A file shot of a transport truck rolling down a highway. The Canadian Trucking Alliance recently put together a report that guessed cargo and truck theft costs Canadian firms $5 billion a year. Photo: Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Archive
Seven trailers and five trucks have been stolen in the past two weeks from the Woodstock area, thefts the RCMP has estimated to be worth in the millions of dollars.
Five of the trailers have turned up in Montreal, emptied of their cargo. Three of the trucks have been found in different spots across western New Brunswick and Quebec, all missing their trailers. Valley Express Transport Ltd. had three fully loaded trucks lifted from its property in Bearsdley on July 9, a theft estimated to be valued at $1 million. The woman who answered the phone at the firm's office said the company didn't want to comment on the theft.
Cpl. Yann Audoux, spokesman for the New Brunswick RCMP, wouldn't reveal the contents of any of the trailers, saying, "That information is part of our investigation at this time."
"It sounded like they had specific trailers in mind," said Jean-Marc Picard, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, who spoke with the affected trucking company owners earlier this week. "Who knows who their sources were."
"This has certainly opened a few eyes. It seems it's people who are organized and they know what they're doing. It's not a random act."
He said cargo theft has yet to make inroads in New Brunswick like it has in Ontario and Quebec. These types of thefts are usually related to organized crime, he said, and often the criminals have no interest in the truck.
"Usually they want loads that are easy to get rid of."
Hard numbers on cargo theft are nearly impossible to track, said Jennifer Fox, vice-president of customs with the Canadian Trucking Alliance. Police and insurance companies don't track the numbers separately from other types of theft, she said, and often trucking firms are reluctant to report the crimes because insurance deductibles and rate hikes don't make it worth while.
The organization recently put together a report that guessed cargo and truck theft costs Canadian firms $5 billion a year.
"And the perception is that it's on the rise," she said.
The alliance is working with law enforcement agencies to create a universal template that officers can use to track the incidents, giving both officers and trucking firms a better picture of thefts across the country, and possibly give incites into how they can be reduced.
Picard, of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, said he's encouraging his members report any incidents.
"It's obviously not the first time and probably won't be the last," Picard said.
In 2004 truck driver Wade Haines, perhaps New Brunswick's most famous transport truck thief, made off with a truckload of 50,000 Spanish-labeled cans of Moosehead beer bound for Mexico. Police traced a trail back to Haines after the exotic Moosehead beers cans started turning up in towns across the province.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press 2011/07/06
OTTAWA - Sophisticated criminals are using special compartments built into tractor trailers to smuggle cash across borders, says the RCMP.
A Mountie intelligence report obtained by The Canadian Press warns that organized crime is exploiting the trucking industry to move money, drugs and people.
"Moving large amounts of cash may be the pinnacle of success for these criminal organizations, demonstrating a high level of trust and elevated status," the RCMP found.
Customized compartments fashioned into tractor trailers are used to conceal contraband, yet increasingly specialized ones are being used to hide cash, the report says.
A declassified version of the report, completed last year, was recently released under the Access to Information Act. Portions considered too sensitive to release were withheld by the RCMP.
"Criminals are operating with a rapidly expanding trucking industry that is challenging to regulate and includes cross-border movement of goods," says the RCMP assessment of the threat, dubbed Project Stall.
Cocaine is the most common illegal commodity intercepted in commercial trucks entering Canada and marijuana is most often nabbed domestically, says the report.
The trucking industry moves more than 70 per cent of goods into Canada from the United States and employs 400,000 people. Almost three-quarters of the cross-border traffic passes through points in Ontario and Quebec, which have close to 31,500 owner-operators.
The report notes truck traffic is expected to expand significantly over the next decade on North American Free Trade Agreement corridors.
It describes a complex web of relationships between governments, regulatory bodies and transportation and trucking associations.
"Criminal groups conceal their illicit activities through layers of company ownerships, name changes and, transfers and closures," says the report.
Stolen or fraudulently acquired FAST passes — which streamline the often time-consuming process of crossing the border — "demonstrate the vulnerability of these measures" to organized crime, it adds.
The elaborate means by which good are transferred through a number of shipping, receiving and transport companies further confuse efforts to pinpoint crime.