Under attack

Lucinda Coulter | June 01, 2010

Since 2002, he’s advocated stiffer penalties for a crime that typically draws light prison sentences, is highly profitable and easy to get away with, and generally escapes public attention.

In 2006, Dean and the National Insurance Crime Bureau started a national cargo theft task force. The group pushes for funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to pursue thefts, a uniform system for reporting them and stiffer penalties for the crimes.

“Thieves are moving out of drugs and moving into cargo theft,” says Dean. He cracked down on cargo thieves in Marion County by authorizing sheriff’s detective Thomas Bibb to run undercover operations at four truck stops near I-75. Thefts countywide dropped from $1.2 million to zero. Cargo theft, he says, “is so lucrative, with the potential for supporting terrorism, and is so easy to get away with.”

Prison sentences vary widely by state because cargo thefts can be classed as robbery, burglary, grand theft or theft of property or vehicles, and often have no mandatory minimum sentence. If convicted of cargo theft at the federal level, thieves can be sentenced to a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Task force members are urging Congress to make a cargo theft statute with minimum mandatory sentencing for first-, second- and third-time offenders.

“You’re arresting the same people over and over and over again for stealing millions of dollars of cargo,” Bibb says.

Dean and others celebrated a small victory when the FBI implemented the Uniform Crime Reporting Code for cargo theft, the first time a new code has been made since 1990. It offers a standard method to report thefts in the bureau’s crime database.

“It’s going to take some time to populate that database,” says Chuck Forsaith, supply chain security director at Purdue Pharma Technologies, which makes the painkiller Oxycontin. “But it will allow the FBI and everyone else to know how bad cargo theft is.” Forsaith’s department recovered $75 million in pharmaceutical thefts last year and $17 million the year before.