Big Gain, Little Pain

| April 07, 2005

Billions of dollars are lost and many lives risked every year as ever-bolder thieves loot the trucking industry.

Thick with Thieves
The roots of cargo theft reach inside and outside the industry.

Miami Heat
Thieves learn the hard way that an idling Pete isn’t as innocent as it looks.

Hijacked!
Some thieves turn to desperate measures to take cargo

Dwindling Resources
Cargo theft takes a back seat to war on terror.

Protecting the Goods
Fleets, retailers and trucking organizations all have a vested interest in security.

The fact that cargo theft is a property crime makes it very attractive, according to law enforcement officials and trucking security experts. A criminal caught with several kilograms of cocaine, for example, will face a long prison sentence – possibly life. A thief caught with a load of cell phones – perhaps worth millions – is commonly a candidate for probation unless he’s a serious repeat offender.

“Organized crime has found it more profitable to turn to cargo theft,” says Barry Brandman, president of Danbee Investigations, a global security firm. “There’s no correlation between the crime and the criminal penalties. If you bring cocaine to the U.S., you’re going to get hard time. If you get involved with cargo theft, you’ll get a legal slap on the wrist.”

In some cases, the stolen cargo is worth more than drugs and is easier to dispose of. Microchips, consumer electronics and cigarettes offer an enormous return on investment for much less risk. Consider the case of Jose Maldonado Jr. The former trucker from Union City, N.J., has been arrested dozens of times, indicted nine times in New Jersey and pleaded guilty in eight cases, according to New Jersey police. For all of his efforts, he has spent only two years in prison.

“The sentences are too weak,” says Randy Price, director of corporate security for Prime Inc. “Consider a million-dollar film theft in Florida. All three thieves were convicted. All three got the maximum sentence. They were out in less than 36 months.”

Federal prosecutors are unwilling to spend much effort on most cargo thefts because they are property crimes or because the dollar amounts involved are too low to justify the resources.
Local law enforcement often places low priority on many such cases because the cargo has no local origin or destination, and no one involved with the crime – victim or criminal – is local.

“Technically, there is no such crime as cargo theft,” says Lt. Ed Petow, commander of the multi-agency TOMCATS, an anti-cargo theft task force based in Miami. “If you report a tractor stolen with a trailer attached, it is auto theft. If you report an unattached trailer stolen, it is theft. If you report a trailer stolen from a warehouse, or the goods inside a trailer stolen

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