The great tomato heist — Cargo thieves still operating in plain sight

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I missed this report from the New York Times a week and a half back, about a sophisticated cargo-theft ring operating a seemingly legitimate trucking company in Florida, with a twist. The freight targeted wasn’t consumer electronics or cigarettes or pharmaceuticals. “The high price of produce, especially for tomatoes after the deep winter freezes,” reporter William Neuman leads the Times piece, “has attracted more than heightened attention from consumers. A ring of sophisticated vegetable bandits was watching, too.”

If heists like this one — a theft in which a trucking company was established, with DOT authority, seemingly for the sole purpose of picking up $300,000 worth of brokered fresh tomato loads to then make off with — don’t attract the attention of the national security establishment, I don’t know what kind of cargo theft will. When I was reporting my part of the Truckers News cover story about cargo theft in mid-2010, it was just this sort of infiltration of the food chain that most concerned the investigators working the cases we discussed.

More resources need to be dedicated to the problem — and not only for reasons of national security. Thieves operating for all intents and purposes legitimately give the rest of the trucking industry a bad name, of course, to say nothing about the auditing procedures of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which grants motor carrier authority. What do you think? How should DOT handle new trucking companies to help prevent this sort of thing without holding the applications for authority of legitimate new owner-operator/small fleet businesses?

Read the New York Times piece.

Find more about cargo theft in Overdrive.