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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Indiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Final defendant sentenced in massive, nationwide, cargo theft conspiracy

Investigation Dismantles One of the Most Prolific Cargo Theft Rings in FBI History

         New Albany – Josh J. Minkler, the United States Attorney, announced today that Ramon Sera-Mastrapa, 40, a Cuban national living in Florida, has been sentenced to 40 months’ imprisonment in connection with his role in a massive, years-long cargo theft conspiracy that spanned more than half of the continental United States. 

         The sentence, handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt at a hearing in New Albany, Indiana, Friday morning, represents the culmination of a years-long investigation led by the United States Attorney’s Office and agents of the FBI’s New Albany office, in close partnership with the Kentucky State Police Vehicle Investigations Unit. This massive investigative effort also yielded convictions and significant federal prison sentences for 12 other defendants: Carlos Enrique Freire-Pifferrer, Juan Perez-Gonzalez, Eduardo Hernandez, Mario Hernandez-Oquendo, Yoel Palenzuela-Mendez, Orlis Machado Cantillo, Miguel Mompie, Ritzy Robert-Montaner, Roberto Santos-Gonzalez, Carlos Mendez-Rosa, Raico Benitez Castillo, and Daniel Gonzalez-Insua.

          During the many court proceedings held in this case, the Court heard voluminous testimony about the sophistication of this theft ring. Specifically, the court heard that the defendants would travel from various locations throughout the United States to Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other U.S. States to reconnoiter distribution facilities used by various companies to distribute high-value cell phones, electronics, computer equipment, name brand clothing, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and liquor, among other products. Once the defendants identified a truck leaving a distribution facility, they would follow the truck for hundreds of miles until the driver of the cargo load would stop to rest or refuel. At that point, the defendants would steal the entire semi-tractor and trailer. Typically the group would abandon the tractor portion of the stolen vehicle within 20 miles of the site of the theft, but would hook the stolen trailer up to a tractor operated by another member of the conspiracy and paint over any logos on the stolen trailer in an effort to conceal the identity of the trailer and evade law enforcement detection. Efforts were then made to transport the stolen merchandize to major U.S. cities where the contents of the trailers were sold onto the black market.

         Among the truck-loads of merchandise targeted for theft by this group were those transporting T-Mobile cellular telephones, Samsung appliances, Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret clothing, Elizabeth Arden perfume, COTY cosmetics, Nikon cameras, Apple, Dell and HP computers, Pfizer pharmaceuticals, Mead Johnson baby formula, Lorillard cigarettes, and one truckload of LG cellular telephones valued at $11.9 million. All totaled, the FBI and KSP linked these defendants to more than 32 cargo loads, valued at more than $30 million, stolen between October of 2011 and May of 2015. 

         The Court also heard evidence that, before getting involved in this conspiracy, at least three members of the group, Roberto Santos-Gonzalez, Juan Perez-Gonzalez, and Eduardo Hernandez, had prior federal convictions for remarkably similar conduct. 

         As noted above, Sera-Mastrapa was the final defendant to be sentenced in this case. In prior proceedings, Judge Pratt sentenced the other members of the conspiracy to significant terms of imprisonment, including: Santos-Gonzalez (150 months), Perez-Gonzalez (108 months), Freire-Pifferrer (87 months), Machado-Cantillo (96 months), Mario Hernandez-Oquendo (79 months), Daniel Gonzalez-Insua (72 months), Yoel Palenzuela-Mendez (60 months), Miguel Mompie (57 months), and Carlos Mendez-Rosa (40 months).

         According to Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew J. Rinka and James M. Warden, each of the defendants were also ordered to serve a period of supervised release following their incarceration, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution to the victims in this case.

         “The arms of federal law enforcement are long and untiring,” said Josh J. Minkler, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “These crimes affect everyday Hoosiers and Americans by driving up costs, across-the-board, for businesses and citizens alike.  The conspiracy in this case represented an all-out, nationwide assault on interstate shipping, but it ultimately proved no match for the collaborative efforts and determination of Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, assisted by private sector groups like the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Let the sentences meted out in this case be a stern warning to others:  Those who obstruct or interfere with interstate shipping will be doggedly pursued and brought to justice.”

         “The significance of this case, from a national perspective, cannot be overstated. The results represent nearly a decade’s worth of federal, state, and local law enforcement and private sector collaboration,” said Grant Mendenhall, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the FBI agents and Kentucky State Police troopers who literally chased these defendants across the United States and stopped them.”

         In October 2017, United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced a Strategic Plan designed to shape and strengthen the District’s response to its most significant public safety challenges. This prosecution demonstrates the Office’s firm commitment to prosecuting complex, large-scale fraud schemes. See United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana Strategic Plan 5.1.

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Updated April 8, 2019