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Multi-state cargo theft ring that traveled through Virginia busted

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(WSLS 10) - Eight people have been charged in an organized scheme to steal tens of millions of dollars in merchandise from shipments of cargo moving through the state of Virginia and elsewhere, according to United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler

"Interfering with interstate commerce is a crime that affects us all through higher consumer prices and the disruption of product supply to retail outlets," said Minkler in a written statement, released on Wednesday. "Those who choose to engage in this type of theft will be held strictly accountable."

The 23 count indictment is the culmination of a joint, multi-year investigation involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police, the Wythe County (VA) Sheriff's Department, Kentucky State Police, Louisville (KY) Metropolitan Police Department, Indiana State Police, Illinois State Police, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fayette County (OH) Sheriff's Department, Oklahoma City (OK) Police Department, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, among others.

Two private entities, CargoNet and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, also significantly assisted in the investigation.

As alleged in the indictment, between August of 2012 and May of 2015: 

CARLOS ENRIQUE FREIRE-PIFFERRER, 36, Louisville

JUAN PEREZ-GONZALEZ, 41, Louisville

EDUARDO HERNANDEZ, 52, Miami

MARIO HERNANDEZ-OQUENDO, 37, Miami

YOEL PALENZUELA-MENDEZ, 40, Miami

ORLIS MACHADO-CANTILLO, 44, Louisville

MIGUEL MOMPIE, 47, Louisville

RITZY ROBERT-MONTANER, 25, Louisville

Authorities say these eight people conspired to and stole millions of dollars in cargo being transported in interstate commerce by semi-tractor trailers. The group would then transport the stolen merchandise to locations in Kentucky, New Jersey, Florida, and elsewhere, and sell the stolen merchandise for financial gain.

In carrying out the wide-ranging scheme, it is alleged that the defendants and their co-conspirators traveled from various locations throughout the United States to Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other states to steal products that were being shipped in interstate commerce.

Authorities say the group surveyed distribution facilities used by various national companies to ship their products. They would then locate and follow semi-tractor trailers leaving the facilities until the driver of the cargo load would stop to rest or refuel his/her truck. The group would then steal the entire semi-tractor and trailer loaded with merchandise.

In many cases, the group would abandon the stolen tractor a short distance away after attaching the stolen trailer to a tractor owned/operated by one of the members of the theft group. Many times the defendants would quickly paint over any logos on the stolen trailer in an effort to conceal the identity of the trailer and evade law enforcement detection.

According to the indictment, on 11 separate occasions this group stole cargo loads traveling within the Southern District of Indiana and/or used interstate highways within the district to transport the stolen merchandise to other states. Stolen cargo shipments are alleged to have included computers and computer equipment, cellular telephones, electronics, appliances, perfume, cosmetics, clothing, baby formula, and tires. The value of merchandise stolen from or unlawfully transported is alleged to exceed $17.5 million.

The defendants face sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment for each count of possession or transportation of stolen goods in interstate commerce, and up to five years on the conspiracy charge. The defendants also face up to three years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.