Chicago-area freight thief steals $9.5M in goods: Courts

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Updated Jun 12, 2024

Authorities on Friday indicted Aivaras Zigmantas, 39, a Lithuanian national, with more than $9.5 million in theft from diverted freight shipments, including liquor and copper metal. 

In a tale that's become well worn in trucking circles, Zigmantas allegedly pulled off the thefts using fake names, fake carrier entities, and fake broker entities in many cases registered to the FMCSA's admittedly outdated system.

[Related: The criminal element lurking in FMCSA's outdated registration system]

Zigmantas "used various aliases to falsely pose as a representative of real and fictitious carriers and brokers involved in transporting shipments across state lines," noted a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Illinois. "After fraudulently inducing individuals and entities to release shipments of goods to him, Zigmantas and others diverted the shipments from their intended destinations and stole the goods." 

Zigmantas' alleged crimes took place in 2020 and 2021, and cargo theft and other freight crimes have skyrocketed since then, with an increasing clip of thefts and dollar value of losses.

"As part of the fraud scheme, Zigmantas used aliases to open bank accounts and UPS Store mailboxes, and he created email addresses and websites in the names of fake individuals and entities," the indictment states.

In the end, Zigmantas is alleged to have attempted to steal $13.5 million in goods, and to have actually stolen $9.5 million in goods. 

Zigmantas, of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is charged with six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud, and two counts of theft of interstate shipments. 

[Related: High-value cargo increasingly targeted by thieves]

Zigmantas at times went by the following aliases: Rolandas Butikis, Rolandas Butkus, Vismantas Danyla, Tom Kempinski, Arturas Liaskevicius, Darius Meskauskas, Arminas Rimkus, Egidijus Stankus, Kathy Stone, Darius Venskus and Aivarasz Zigmaneas.

He created a raft of "fictitious carriers," according to the indictment, that included Best Global Express, Mato Trans, Martin Global, JRO Global, VD Transco, SMD Transco, DMFL Express. These carriers have been placed out-of-service by FMCSA, but a look at the old records show the carriers using a mix of UPS store addresses, which would not meet regulatory requirements for a valid principal place of business, and real addresses belonging to other motor carriers. 

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Zigmantas not only registered fake carriers, but also "fictitious brokers," according to the indictment. These included Best Global Express, Total Freight Broker, Mat Broker and A B Broker. The brokerages used a mix of real and P.O. Box type addresses -- a hallmark of shady, or just sloppy, actors

Fake bank accounts and identification documents followed in the alleged scheme. 

[Related: Cargo theft jumped another 46% to begin 2024]

Using the fake carriers and brokers to post on and reply to postings on unnamed load boards, Zigmantas would often direct the driver to another warehouse, where the thefts of cargo allegedly took place.

"It was common for drivers to be diverted to a new location before picking up a shipment, or after they had picked up a shipment," the indictment read. 

Zigmantas remains innocent until proven guilty, though he faces an extreme amount of jail time if convicted, with each count of bank fraud punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison, each count of wire fraud punishable by up to 20 years, and each theft count punishable by up to 10 years.

Overall, the case illustrates how with just a few payments to FMCSA's registration system, criminal actors can infiltrate the spot market and redirect high value shipments at will. 

A new bill in the House would attach $10,000 fines to each instance of "fictitious carriers" and/or brokers having unannounced associations with other MC numbers and clear hurdles for FMCSA in assessing these civil penalties. 

In any case, it's a good reminder for carriers to refresh on best practices to avoid cargo theft and double brokering.

[Related: Cargo theft is skyrocketing, and double brokering is partly to blame]

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