Large-Scale Food Theft

A criminal gang is stealing truckloads of food:

Late last month, a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000.

The thieves disappeared with the shipments just after the price of Florida tomatoes skyrocketed after freezes that badly damaged crops in Mexico. That suddenly made Florida tomatoes a tempting target, on a par with flat-screen TVs or designer jeans, but with a big difference: tomatoes are perishable.

"I've never experienced people targeting produce loads before," said Shaun Leiker, an assistant manager at Allen Lund, a trucking broker in Oviedo, Fla., that was hit three times by the thieves. "It's a little different than selling TVs off the back of your truck."

It's a professional operation. The group knew how wholesale foodstuff trucking worked. They set up a bogus trucking company. They bid for jobs, collected the trailers, and disappeared. Presumably they knew how to fence the goods, too.

Posted on April 20, 2011 at 6:52 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

DaveApril 20, 2011 7:17 AM

In a possibly related story, on-stage assault on vaudeville performers up 400%.

olebinloginApril 20, 2011 7:24 AM

Well this is news to some. They used too, probably still do, steal right out of moving trucks on the way to hunts point [even in the daylight] Those tomatoes was sold before they were ever loaded on the fake truck. Truckload thefts have been going on for over 40 years.

Ask any big rigger, just keep going.

ole.

!DaveApril 20, 2011 8:36 AM

@No One
No, but the one performer has been beat up on stage 5 times in the last year, only once last year.

RonApril 20, 2011 8:41 AM

Be on the lookout for people selling ketchup and pickles. What better way to fence tomatoes and cucumbers?

SApril 20, 2011 8:46 AM

@ Bill: "Or are they really stealing tractor trailers?"

Perhaps try reading the linked article?

"At each pick-up, a driver working for E&A showed up at the wheel of a tractor with a refrigerated trailer."

This is a fairly niche crime, definitely perpetrated by people with knowledge of perishable goods shipping/sale; realistically, you'd have to pre-arrange the buyers I think.

Or possibly just good old-fashioned insurance fraud?

karrdeApril 20, 2011 8:47 AM

Heh.

My first thought is, food prices must be going up.

Kind of like the stories about copper-thefts that came up a couple of years back. (Those stories range from thieves pulling copper pipes/wires out of abandoned houses to people dying while trying to strip copper from a live power line...) The theft wouldn't make sense unless an easy-to-move quantity has a minimum value.

Besides that, I do wonder if this is unprecedented, previously-unnoticed, or previously-under-reported.

SApril 20, 2011 8:53 AM

Yup karrde, & copper is on the up again I think, so expect to see more of that sort of theft again (I did idly wonder about hiring myself out as a consultant to some of these idiots, given that I have the equipment & the knowledge to make sure the wires aren't live first, and they don't appear to).

I'll drop a bit of off topic here that some of you will surely be interested in:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/apr/20/...

[Guardian article links thru to a github page with further details/explanation, I believe, although github seems to be verboten round here]

Anonymous 1April 20, 2011 9:08 AM

Even a TV or a set of jeans has a shelf-life of sorts since people won't pay as much for the older model.

Although then again, for a thief selling at a 90% discount can still be pretty profitable.

Clive RobinsonApril 20, 2011 9:19 AM

@ Ron,

"Be on the lookout for people selling ketchup and pickles. What better way to fence tomatoes and cucumbers."

Sorry to spoil the joke...

But to make both ketchup and pickles you need both sugar and vinegar.

Anyone sudenly buying large quantities of either are going to attract the attention of the authorities.

Sugar is a base requirment for illegal alchol or Moonshine, and vinegar is a base requirment for making certain illegal drugs.

Oh and they can also be used for making explosives as well...

Clive RobinsonApril 20, 2011 9:32 AM

@ Karrde,

"Those storie range from thieves pulling copper pipes/wires ou of abandoned houses to people dying while trying to strip copper from a live power line."

Speaking of which an old woman was sentanced to a substantial jail sentance in Europe the other day. Her crime was scaveging along a railway line for bits of cable to sell as scrap. The only trouble is she cut through an optical cable and put a whole country of the Internet.

I was initialy ammused on reading it as it reminded me of when a rodent did the same for a large chunk of the US several years ago.

However it was put into stark contrast just a few nights ago for me...

Between my house and the neighbours, he had a new gas boiler fitted a year or so ago. British gas being somewhat lazy put the gas supply to it on the outside of the property using 22mm copper pipe.

Some dangerous idiot came along and tried to steal the pipe by choping through it with a large pair of wire cutters and failed. I was woken by a noise and on investigating heard the hissing. I was not amused because it could easily have filled the neighbours house with gas killing then and causing an explosion when the timer on the boiler or thermostat activated...

I hope they catch the idiot and use his wire cutter on him a little below the belt line, to discorage other like minded idiots.

aikimarkApril 20, 2011 9:36 AM

Maybe they have a canning factory at their disposal. That would take care of the perishable nature of their haul.

Maybe they are doing their work for a legitimate industrial consumer of tomatoes and cucumbers -- free produce to sell at the new higher prices.

hmmmmm...suddenly I'm in the mood for a Bloody Mary.

Maybe this is an insurance scam.

I always wondered where those small trucks got the meat that they peddle door-to-door in my neighborhood. I always suspected that it was a scam. :-)

=============
@Dave,
Thanks. I needed that smile today.

RonApril 20, 2011 9:41 AM

@Clive Robinson

If they were smart enough to start a fake shipping company to steal trucks, they might be smart enough to start a fake condiments company to make ketchup/pickles. :P

SApril 20, 2011 9:47 AM

@ aikimark: "I always wondered where those small trucks got the meat that they peddle door-to-door in my neighborhood. I always suspected that it was a scam."

Move to Liverpool - then you can just sit in a pub while people come round with sports bags full of meat. Far more civilised than having to wait at home :)

paulApril 20, 2011 9:50 AM

It sounds as if it could be relatively easy to catch these people with the right trackingor the right kind of sting operation. But then you would inevitably catch the people who buy from them, and that would make for bad feelings throughout the industry.

DApril 20, 2011 9:50 AM

On fencing the goods: around here we have old men in pick up trucks sitting in random places selling produce. Presumably, they acquire their produce from the farmer's market 30mi away or from local farmers.

There is no way for me to tell the difference between the tomatoes he bought legitimately from the ones some gang member sold to him. Nor is there a way for me to know that the old man isn't part of the thieving ring.

We do not authenticate vegetables.

OnTheWaterfrontApril 20, 2011 10:01 AM

I experienced a similar crime last year, the Port at which I work imports most of the Bananas consumed in North America and because bananas generally are containerized cargo they must be scanned for radiation by Customs & Border patrol (CBP) as they leave the port. But CBP only works 8am-5pm Mon thru Fri, that means no weekend pickups. Well Dole sells a lot of Bananas on weekends, so their solution was to lease a small parking lot just outside the port and containers that were schedule to be picked up on weekends would be scanned by CBP on Friday afternoon and then parked at the leased parking lot just out side the port. The truck driver would be told ahead of time what container number was theirs and they would just find the container hook-up and go.
Well one day somebody figured out the system showed up late Friday night with a couple of trucks and took 2 containers of bananas, the empty containers where later found in New York City.

GreenSquirrelApril 20, 2011 10:26 AM

Just shows that if something has a value, someone will steal it.

All second guessing aside, if this isnt insurance fraud, then it means that someone, somewhere, has identified a profit that can be made from this enterprise.

Isnt capitalism great :-)

mcbApril 20, 2011 10:27 AM

I wonder if the thieves set up another front company to sell the stolen produce directly back into legitimate commerce.

Otherwise, one supposes there are restaurants and food manufacturers controlled by organized crime who would benefit from alternative distribution channels.

Like aikimark and S suggest, it's not uncommon for a fella to enter a grocery store, fill a duffle bag with prepackaged cuts of beef, and walk out of the store. Even if the theft is noticed most groceries don't have loss prevention agents on site and regular staff are instructed not to physically intervene. The thieves then sell the meat to small restaurants, no questions asked. Extra profit for the retailer, untraceable cash for the wholesaler.

Plenty of ways to make crime pay...

BF SkinnerApril 20, 2011 10:35 AM

@OnTheWaterfront "showed up late Friday night with a couple of trucks "

They better have been Teamsters or there's gonna be trouble!

BF SkinnerApril 20, 2011 10:41 AM

@clive "an old woman was sentanced to ... jail ... in Europe ... Her crime was scaveging ...for ... scrap. ... she cut through an optical cable and put a whole country of the Internet."

Poor Mom. I should send her a card on mothers day.

Yeah Armenia. Hell if that's all it takes to put a country in the dark we have other things to worry about then the President's kill switch.

This is of course also MY own retirement plan after the Conservatives get done gutting Social Security and Medicare.

karrdeApril 20, 2011 11:05 AM

@mcb:
I wonder if the thieves set up another front company to sell the stolen produce directly back into legitimate commerce.
------------------------------------------------
I think you've got it.

getting hungryApril 20, 2011 11:55 AM

What else would they do with tomatoes, cucumbers (pickles), and frozen beef?

Start their own hamburger joint!

(BOLO for stolen truckloads of buns!)

John FApril 20, 2011 12:01 PM

@mcb: Front companies leave paper trails. Why not work with local farmers to redistribute the produce back into the system?

If a farm typically produces enough produce to fill, eg, 20 trailers with produce, will anyone really notice an extra trailer? Particularly if a farm is having an off year?

Dirk PraetApril 20, 2011 1:06 PM

Food prices are on the rise kinda everywhere and are already causing sporadic outbursts of violence in African and Asian countries. I expect such hauls to become more and more commonplace, especially in areas with persistent droughts. Only yesterday, I saw a documentary on TV about how less and less water is available to farmers in California in order not to jeopardise the supply of the big cities.

Just as with copper and other stuff, there always comes some tipping point when demand for certain goods gets strong enough to become profitable for criminals. Nothing more than the free market at work.

aikimarkApril 20, 2011 3:06 PM

>>We do not authenticate vegetables.

If we did, what would that look/sound like?
"Yep....That's a vegetable."

mcbApril 20, 2011 3:39 PM

@ John F

"Why not work with local farmers to redistribute the produce back into the system?"

The fewer conspirators the better. Remember, "Two people can keep a secret, if one of them is dead." With different false fronts doing the buying and selling the drivers need not know they're part of a criminal conspiracy. The whole crime could happen on some goombah's laptop. It does seem like a mess of work for a couple truckloads of fresh vedge though.

Clive RobinsonApril 20, 2011 3:49 PM

@ Dirk Praet,

"I saw a documentary on TV about how less and less water is available to farmers in California in order not to jeopardise the supply of the big cities"

All through human recorded history "water rights" have been a steady cause for conflict. Even today in the Middle East you will find Nations exerting undue influence or political control via denying others access to water.

However in more modern times it is now "energy rights" where nations seek to cornor energy resources to make other nations dependent and politicaly amenable. You can see several examples of this with Russia and the old soviet republic countries.

It has been said a number of times that Iraq's oil as a resource was being used by Saddam Hussain to effect the world economy to try and get the US off of his back, and it was this that was the real primary reason the US & UK invaded.

Further it has been alledged many times that the US policy towards other Nation states and Nuclear power is to make them "dependent" on the US and other Nuclear nations by manipulating the UN bodies. It is certainly the case that they tried repeatedly to undermine Hans Blix, oh and then there was the supposadly independent behaviour of Scooter Libby...

Tony H.April 20, 2011 5:37 PM

@aikimark:
"I always wondered where those small trucks got the meat that they peddle door-to-door in my neighborhood. I always suspected that it was a scam. :-)"

It takes a lot of hamsters to make even a small truckload of door-to-door ham...

asdApril 20, 2011 5:42 PM

buy some copper from a shop(even at a loss), wait ten years then sell for a killing

Mog_XApril 21, 2011 3:17 AM

@aikimark:

That authentication would not work in this scenario.

"Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it
in a fruit salad"

WinterApril 21, 2011 3:27 AM

This has been ongoing practise for ages on real ships.

Bid for cargo in a port, load, paint a new name on the ship and sell in a different port.

zorroApril 21, 2011 9:12 AM

@BF Skinner
This is of course also MY own retirement plan after the Conservatives get done gutting Social Security and Medicare.
--

What is? To move to Armenia?

Steve GeistApril 21, 2011 10:29 AM

@John F: If a farm typically produces enough produce to fill, eg, 20 trailers with produce, will anyone really notice an extra trailer? Particularly if a farm is having an off year?

Thre have been countless "ghost truck" frauds through the ages. If you're getting paid by the truckload and short-fill 19 semis by 5%, you magically wind up with enough stuff to fill another semi and get paid for 20 trucks, and there are similar ways to jigger getting paid by the trip in scenarios like shuttling back and forth all day long moving gravel out of a quarry or similar jobs. If your trucking company is providing six trucks and drivers for a job and they each make nine runs a day, will anyone really notice if every other driver says they made ten runs?

I used to work with someone who was good at smoking out ghost trucks. It was amusing to watch him doing finger math in the air, but more often than not, he was right and could pinpoint the particular driver(s).

But stealing truckloads of tomatos amazes me with the whole chain that had to be pre-set for it to work before they rot. It's one thing to spread out a crate of stolen DVD players or whatever across a network of eBay sellers to be sold over the course of a few weeks, but I'm lucky if I can keep tomatos edible in the fridge for two days after I buy them.

Anon E. MooseApril 21, 2011 11:05 AM

@ GreenSquirrel. Your comment implies that this would not happen in a society that was not capitalist. Theft is very present in communist and socialist countries as well. It may not be in the same scale as we have see here, but given the right resources theft scales well. Would you rather we were all backward, servants of the state? I for one am glad I have the freedom to change my job, sell my house and move to Possum Trot, KY, if I so desire. In a capitalist society I own the tools that I use to make a living, I own my house, and I am a citizen. In a communist, or socialist society the state owns everything and I am a servant to the state. I enjoy my Liberty!

WarLordApril 21, 2011 3:29 PM

In every society of every political stripe, there are "edges" and people willing to work in the shadows of the gray and black markets.

But I'm still trying to imagine fencing a truckload of tomatoes....

Richard Steven HackApril 21, 2011 4:26 PM

Remember the last "Fast and Furious" movie? They were stealing gasoline tankers right off the back of the moving gasoline land train (street value according to the movie: $1.4 million) Very cool action sequence ending in exploding gas tankers.

The trailer has some of that sequence here:
Fast & Furious 4 Trailer 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcY7HkvF1aw

Looking forward to the new "Fast Five" movie where they drag a safe full of money down the street while being chased by the Rio De Janeiro cops. :-)

NobodyspecialApril 21, 2011 10:00 PM

somebody did this a few years ago at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. They turned up with a truck tractor unit and some paper work, hooked up a trailer full of beer and drove away.
IIRC they repeated it about 5 times!

Davi OttenheimerApril 22, 2011 1:20 AM

It's APT2!

Clearly a case of Advanced Persistent Tomato Threat.

This has been happening for many years so I would wager the organization behind the thefts is well-versed in supply-chain fraud, or even insiders.

Here's a case of large-scale almond truck theft I wrote about in 2006

http://www.flyingpenguin.com/?p=786

"Crime officials estimate the total losses from the almond thieves at $1.5million in the past 18 months to two years throughout the Valley. No arrests have been made.

The nut thieves hit Fresno County the night of Oct. 1, stealing a semi-truck carrying a container of almonds from the Devine Intermodal yard, according to the Almond Board of California."

11111April 22, 2011 5:58 PM

The NYT reporter who wrote the article (and Mr. Schneier for linking to it) clearly show their ignorance.

Cargo theft is NOT news and it has been going on for a LONG time. The fake company scam is also not new either.

Davi OttenheimerApril 24, 2011 11:05 AM

@11111

"...ignorance. Cargo theft is NOT news"

You could say generic theft is not news, but there is news in the details of opportunity and motive.

A threat has evolved in response to a shift in market price for tomatoes in Mexico, which is always new(s).

http://banderasnews.com/0610/nz-tomatoprices.htm

"'I can't recall another country where one food item seems to be so important' in determining inflation, said Gray Newman, head of Latin America research at Morgan Stanley in New York."

JonadabApril 26, 2011 10:48 AM

> (Avocado values were high enough that
> paying for the labor to pick them wasn't
> a deal-breaker. I doubt you could do this
> with something like raspberries.)

Apparently you haven't seen what grocery stores charge for fresh raspberries around here. They sell them in half-full half-cup "baskets" to keep the sticker price from giving shoppers an instant coronary, but if you calculate the price per bushel it's positively terrifying. I think you could require your pickers to have multiple PhDs, have them pick into disposable use-once picking baskets made of iridium alloy, pay the guys who are supposed to be guarding the raspberry bushes a hefty bribe to look the other way, fly the resulting berries halfway around the world on a private jet, and you might still turn a profit.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..