*NEWS*CHICAGO A CAPITAL FOR CARGO THIEVES
*NEWS*CHICAGO A CAPITAL FOR CARGO THIEVES
2005-12-02 at 11:14:00 am #13161
Chicago a capital for cargo thieves
In this international transport hub, criminals steal by the truckload
first of 15 stolen trailers arrived in February, loaded with $300,000
in Goodyear tires. The next month brought a $20,000 load of
Still more stolen goods rolled into a bogus
warehouse opened by cops as a sting: Crooks brought them liquor, canned
tuna, Canon copiers and hot tubs. Furniture and computer printers,
cookies and car parts, all lifted by the truckload.
After $60,000 in
stolen sweatshirts pulled up Aug. 16, the Will County-based task force
shuttered the warehouse and arrested the thieves who had filled it.
Their take: $2.2 million in recovered merchandise over six months.
was a huge victory in a fight against cargo theft, a growing criminal
enterprise thought to involve billions of dollars in stolen goods
nationwide, millions in Chicago. But then the undercover cops in the
Tri-County Auto Theft Unit went back to chasing stolen cars. Cargo
theft returned to the back burner.
“The reality is, there’s no
concerted effort to target this. We deal with it, but it’s not our
primary objective,” said Will County sheriff’s police Sgt. William Mort.
Increasingly, law enforcement has realized nobody is.
the cargo industry and FBI estimate $10 billion to $15 billion in goods
slip away from cargo docks, warehouses and truck lots in the U.S. each
year, joining a river of stolen commerce that continues to swell.
to the revenues of Fortune 500 companies, cargo theft ranks just behind
Anheuser-Busch in annual business, alongside U.S. Steel and Samsung.
consumers pay for that. Commercial security experts and law enforcement
officials estimate this dry-land piracy could add as much as 20 percent
to the cost of a computer, 5 percent to a designer shirt.
these days is shipped in standard-sized steel containers, which can be
loaded onto trucks, trains or ships. The equivalent of about 12 million
of those cargo containers pass through the Chicago area each year,
according to the Chicago Area Transportation Study, making the region
the third-busiest freight-transfer point in the world, behind Hong Kong
Along the way, goods are lost, stolen or diverted to
the black market. The contents of entire containers make their way into
shady stores in city neighborhoods far from where they’re stolen, or
they are sold online. Police say many of us buy into this black market
when we find an impossibly good deal.
As with cargo, the Chicago
region is a hub for cargo theft. But since 2001, when federal assets
were diverted to anti-terrorism efforts, investigators say they have
fewer resources to chase after cargo thieves.
“I think we were doing
a really good job prior to Sept. 11, but since then our priorities have
changed,” said Special Agent Pamelia Stratton of the FBI’s Philadelphia
office, an cargo crime expert. “The problem with that is … police
departments have other crimes that are more important–murder,
rape–that may affect their citizens more than cargo theft would.”
Illinois State Police say annual trailer thefts in Illinois, which
include cargo heists, increased by 53 percent between 1995 and 2004, to
more than a thousand last year. Investigators say cargo thefts have
also grown more complex, and the loads more valuable.
biggest single cargo heist, an Aurora warehouse burglary in 2002, took
days to complete. Thieves started their assault well in advance by
rigging hinges to come apart in seconds. On the night of the burglary,
they cut alarm wires and intentionally tripped motion detectors until
security guards were convinced the alarm system was malfunctioning.
security systems thwarted, the thieves moved straight for several
pallets of camcorders, and drove off with them into the night. All
told, they took $7.2 million in goods.
A string of evidence led to a
Web site where the goods were being sold and a warehouse in Miami where
some of the camcorders were stored. Authorities recovered some
merchandise, but never made any arrests.
story of that heist comes from Alan Spear, a nightclub pianist, church
organist and president of MRC Investigations, a firm that investigates
cargo cases for insurers.