'It is a huge problem,' said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes.
Iandy Jimenez (Polk County Sheriff's Office,…)
December 13, 2013|By Amy Pavuk, Orlando Sentinel
Florida is a hotbed for cargo thefts.
From baby formula to prescription drugs, meat to chocolate, electronics to washing machines, no product is off limits for cargo thieves.
Tractor-trailers filled with merchandise vanish from parking lots and other spots, and are often found abandoned in South Florida.
By the time law-enforcement catches up with the vehicles and containers, the cargo is long gone.
"It is a huge problem," said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes.
More than 130 cargo thefts were reported in Florida last year by FreightWatch International, making the Sunshine State the second-highest ranking for such heists.
Interstate 4, Interstate 95 and Interstate 75 are hotspots for cargo thefts in Florida, Montes said.
Thieves sell the goods on the black market in the United States, and also send the items overseas for sales.
"It's a low-risk, high-reward type of crime," said Tom Foy, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Fort Myers division.
Earlier this year, agents from Foy's office and members of a statewide cargo-theft task force dismantled a cargo theft ring responsible for stealing millions of dollars in products.
Two Polk County men, Iandy Jimenez and Enrique Bernardez, are among those accused of stealing tractor-trailers filled with tires, clothes, food and pharmaceuticals.
The ring had stash houses in Highlands and Hillsborough counties, where the stolen cargo was stored before being sent to Miami for distribution, agents said.
Richard Mellor, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, said cargo thefts have a serious impact on retailers and consumers.
"When a truck is stolen it can completely disrupt a product line being available to consumers," Mellor said. "Although some products are more readily available to get a replacement shipment on the road to the retailers, in some cases it needs to be shipped from other countries and can take weeks to obtain."
FreightWatch reports that food and drinks were the most frequently stolen merchandise in 2012, accounting for 19 percent of all cargo theft nationwide.
Metals were the second-most frequently stolen cargo item last year. Electronics were in third, accounting for 13 percent of all thefts.
Investigators say food is an easy item to steal and sell because it is difficult for law-enforcement to track, unlike electronic devices marked with serial numbers.
During a recent weekend, a tractor-trailer filled with $120,000 worth of Hershey's chocolate was stolen from a DeLand truck center.
The truck, a 2012 Freightliner Cascadia with red and orange stripes, has not been recovered. Neither has the candy.
Montes said thieves often gather their own intelligence so they know what is inside the trailers they steal.
"They're looking for what they can transport and sell quickly overseas," she said.
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