The four men soon overcame their suspicion of the unmarked truck, continued over the wall and dropped quietly to the ground. The fifth man remained in the car as a lookout. The four armed men quickly smashed the tractor’s windows with a golf club to break in. One of them was working on jumping the engine when the SWAT team, perched on top of the warehouses, shouted its warning.
Dazzled by the lights of the task force, the four men froze for a moment. The SWAT team opened fire with pepper balls, soft-coated projectiles the size of marbles. When the pepper balls hit the truck and the robbers, they burst open and filled the air with powdered cayenne pepper.
A man breaking into the Pete took off running with a shotgun. The SWAT team shouted a warning, and the man’s accomplices yelled, “Drop it, drop it, you fool or they’ll shoot you!” The runner stopped and dropped the weapon. On the other side of the wall, the TOMCATS arrested the fifth man. The truck was damaged, but no one was badly hurt.
The task force members soon discovered that the suspects were the most active cargo hijackers in the region, and have apparent roles in most of the open cargo cases that involve hijacking. At press time, two of the arrested men had accepted plea bargains and face sentences of 15 years or more, one was in plea negotiations, and two were awaiting to be scheduled for trial, said Lt. Petow. There has not been a truck hijacking in the area since this sting.
Task force members speculate that greed made the suspects keep going after their suspicions were aroused. Alex Peraza, the FBI’s supervisor in the TOMCATS operation, recalls how a man he once helped put behind bars for cargo theft saw Perazza, as an undercover agent, talking to a suspected cargo thief. “He’s a cop, he’s a cop!” warned the ex-con.
“You know what?” says Perazza. “That guy stayed with me all the way to jail while this other guy is telling him I’m a cop. He chose to believe me because I was carrying the money. Greed – it helps.”