Multi-state cargo theft ring busted in Southern Indiana
Multi-year investigation dismantles theft ring responsible for millions in losses
New Albany – United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced the unsealing of a twenty-three count indictment charging eight individuals in an organized scheme to steal tens of millions of dollars in merchandise from shipments of cargo moving through the state of Indiana and elsewhere.
“Interfering with interstate commerce is a crime that affects us all through higher consumer prices and the disruption of product supply to retail outlets,” said Minkler. “Those who choose to engage in this type of theft will be held strictly accountable.”
This indictment is the culmination of a joint, multi-year investigation involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kentucky State Police, Louisville (KY) Metropolitan Police Department, Wythe County (VA) Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police, Illinois State Police, Virginia State Police, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fayette County (OH) Sheriff’s Department, Oklahoma City (OK) Police Department, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, among others. Two private entities, CargoNet and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, also significantly assisted in the investigation.
As alleged in the indictment, between August of 2012 and May of 2015,
CARLOS ENRIQUE FREIRE-PIFFERRER, 36, Louisville,
JUAN PEREZ-GONZALEZ, 41, Louisville,
EDUARDO HERNANDEZ, 52, Miami,
MARIO HERNANDEZ-OQUENDO, 37, Miami,
YOEL PALENZUELA-MENDEZ, 40, Miami,
ORLIS MACHADO-CANTILLO, 44, Louisville,
MIGUEL MOMPIE, 47, Louisville,
RITZY ROBERT-MONTANER, 25, Louisville,
conspired to and stole millions of dollars in cargo being transported in interstate commerce by semi-tractor trailers. The group would then transport the stolen merchandise to locations in Kentucky, New Jersey, Florida, and elsewhere, and sell the stolen merchandise for financial gain.
In carrying out the wide-ranging scheme, it is alleged that the defendants and their co-conspirators traveled from various locations throughout the United States to Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other states to steal products that were being shipped in interstate commerce. Specifically, it is alleged that the defendants surveyed distribution facilities used by various national companies to ship their products. The defendants would then locate and follow semi-tractor trailers leaving the distribution facilities until the driver of the cargo load would stop to rest or refuel his/her truck. The defendants would then act in concert to steal the entire semi-tractor and trailer loaded with merchandise.
In many cases, the defendants would abandon the stolen tractor a short distance away after attaching the stolen trailer to a tractor owned/operated by one of the members of the theft group. Many times the defendants would quickly paint over any logos on the stolen trailer in an effort to conceal the identity of the trailer and evade law enforcement detection.
According to the indictment, on 11 separate occasions this group stole cargo loads traveling within the Southern District of Indiana and/or used interstate highways within the district to transport the stolen merchandise to other states. Stolen cargo shipments are alleged to have included computers and computer equipment, cellular telephones, electronics, appliances, perfume, cosmetics, clothing, baby formula, and tires. The value of merchandise stolen from or unlawfully transported through Indiana alone is alleged to exceed $17.5 million.
“This case not only emphasizes the cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute those who engage in this type of crime, but also reveals the damaging effects of such crimes on our community which will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis FBI, W. Jay Abbott.
According to Assistant United States Attorney Matthew J. Rinka, who is prosecuting this case for the government, Ritzy Robert-Montaner, Mario Hernandez-Oquendo, and Eduardo Hernandez have been arraigned on the charges in New Albany before U.S. Magistrate Judge Van T. Willis. The remaining defendants will be arraigned at a later date.
The defendants face sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment for each count of possession or transportation of stolen goods in interstate commerce, and up to five years on the conspiracy charge. The defendants also face up to three years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.
An Indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.