*NEWS*CHICAGO A CAPITAL FOR CARGO THIEVES

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*NEWS*CHICAGO A CAPITAL FOR CARGO THIEVES

 user 2005-12-02 at 11:14:00 am Views: 78
  • #13161

    Chicago a capital for cargo thieves
    In this international transport hub, criminals steal by the truckload
    The
    first of 15 stolen trailers arrived in February, loaded with $300,000
    in Goodyear tires. The next month brought a $20,000 load of
    prescription drugs.
    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.
    It
    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.
    Nationwide,
    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.
    Compared
    to the revenues of Fortune 500 companies, cargo theft ranks just behind
    Anheuser-Busch in annual business, alongside U.S. Steel and Samsung.
    Ultimately
    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.
    Most cargo
    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
    and Singapore.
    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.”
    The
    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.
    Illinois’
    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.
    With
    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.
    Insurers investigate
    The
    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.