Over the past few months, a small gang of thieves stole semitrailers full of everything from Nike shoes to Miller beer to windshield washing fluid from around the Milwaukee area, according to federal charges filed this week after a months-long undercover investigation.
A federal criminal complaint details how the group hit local truck yards, scouted loaded trailers, then hooked up selected targets to tractor trucks and drove them away to Detroit and Indiana to sell the stolen cargo.
Named in the complaint are Jose Rosales, 51, of West Allis, his brother Mario Rosales, of Florida, Oliver Castillo of Milwaukee and Leonilo Tirse of Florida. The Rosales brothers and Tirse are being held without bail after preliminary hearings Tuesday. It was unclear from court records whether Castillo has been arrested.
"It's an ongoing investigation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson, noting that none of the cases involved violence or the hijacking of trucks from legitimate drivers.
According to the complaint:
Confidential informants led investigators to Jose Rosales, who told one informant he dealt in stolen property and asked another informant for help finding storage sites for the stolen merchandise. Jose Rosales also indicated he was working with an insider at a trucking company to plan a heist in July.
In April, the theft of a 2004 Freightliner truck was reported to the West Milwaukee Police Department. Later that month, a trailer load of Miller beer worth $30,000 was reported stolen.
A trailer loaded with about 3,000 pairs of Nike shoes valued at $250,000 was reported stolen from Aim Transfer and Storage on S. 13th St. May 29. Surveillance video showed the thieves took not only the trailer, but a truck valued at $25,000 to tow it.
In early June, a tractor-trailer rig loaded with mozzarella cheese was stolen from West Allis. The rig was found empty three days later near Detroit.
Later in June, agents observed Jose Rosales at a storage facility in Eagle, where the trailer reported stolen from West Milwaukee in April was also observed, and found to be filled with Chex Mix and Shark Bite fruit snacks worth about $50,000. Agents put tracking devices on both the tractor and the trailer, and later tracked their movement to various spots in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee and then Michigan.
The rig was pulled over July 2 in Benton Harbor, Mich., and the driver and a passenger were interviewed by Michigan State Police. The passenger said he was to meet the Rosales brothers near Detroit. The two men in the truck were convicted in Michigan of receiving stolen property.
Apparently undaunted by that bust and lost load, Jose Rosales kept talking with the confidential informants about truck thefts, the complaint indicates.
On Aug. 21, a trailer loaded with about $100,000 worth of antifreeze and windshield cleaning fluid was stolen from an open truck lot at 11400 W. Burleigh St. in Wauwatosa. Agents noted that Jose Rosales' cellphone was nearby at the time, then went to his home, then to Detroit.
On Aug. 28, a trailer loaded with $30,000 worth of salad dressing was stolen from a lot on W. Becher St. in West Allis. Again, records showed Jose Rosales' cellphone in the area at that time, and then traveling to Detroit.
Over Labor Day weekend, the defendants broke into the truck yard at S. 13th St. and W. College Ave. again, entered 17 trailers before trying to steal one loaded with Harley-Davidsons but were stymied by a gate lock they could not cut.
On Sept. 5, a trailer loaded with rock salt and a forklift was stolen from industrial site in New Berlin.
On Sept. 18, a 1998 Kenworth tractor was stolen from a lot at S. 11th St. and W. Grange Ave. Ten days later, Milwaukee police found it parked outside Castillo's north side residence.
Then on the weekend of Oct. 1, the group returned again to Aim Transfer, broke into several trailers, but only took electronic merchandise from one of them. Jose Rosales also discovered that agents had put a tracking device on his van. And on Monday, he, his brother and Tirse were arrested in that van.