- Two men were arrested during a large-scale organized pallet and container theft investigation; 5 businesses were defrauded and approximately $704,487 of wooden pallets and 25 semi-trailers.
- This criminal operation underscores the importance of site security, including video surveillance, in preventing cargo theft.
Polk County, Florida Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) detectives have charged two men with a combined 67 felonies after they engaged in an organized cargo theft conspiracy where 5 businesses were defrauded and about $704,487 of wooden pallets and 25 semi-trailers were stolen.
In late July 2021, PCSO detectives began investigating a reported theft of seven semi-trailers from two different distribution centers in Florida – Saddle Creek Logistical Services in Auburndale and the Walmart Distribution Center in Winter Haven – that contained a large number of wooden pallets. During the initial investigation, detectives were able to identify three semi-trucks with trailers filled with pallets that had been either stolen or burglarized by one of the men – the owner of JCI Pallet in Plant City.
Security footage obtained by detectives from both Saddle Creek Logistics and the Walmart Distribution Center showed a series of thefts where the suspect drove his company’s 2015 Freightliner semi-truck onto the facilities and illegally removed semi-truck trailers filled with wooden pallets waiting to be delivered to other distribution centers and businesses. He was able to circumvent security procedures at the distribution centers to steal the semi-trailers and their contents.
PCSO detectives traveled to JCI Pallet and met with the man. When detectives showed him one of the security videos, he said, “That looks like me.”
He was initially arrested in September with the assistance of the Plant City Police Department and transported to the Hillsborough County Jail where he was later released on a $4000 bond.
Second pallet theft suspect
As the investigation continued, detectives learned that a second suspect, the on-site manager of JCI Pallet assisted the owner in removing stolen trailers filled with pallets from two different distribution centers, affecting four different companies. Over the months of May, June, and July of 2021, the two men planned and coordinated the theft of 25 semi-trailers which contained almost 5,000 wooden pallets. The stolen trailers and pallets combined are worth approximately $935,663. The victims of the organized cargo theft conspiracy were Saddle Creek Logistics, Walmart, 48Forty Solutions, and Monison Pallets.
Detectives tracked the stolen trailers filled with wooden pallets to JCI Pallet where they were emptied before being returned or abandoned without the stolen cargo. Two of the stolen trailers were determined to be empty when they were stolen from the distribution centers. All of the stolen trailers were eventually recovered.
Additionally, a business in Alabama, Smith and Company, had hired the owner of JCI Pallet to deliver pallets to Saddle Creek Logistical Solutions. They were never delivered. Instead, he submitted a fraudulently signed bill of ladings (detailed shipment of goods delivered) and invoices for pallets never delivered.
“My detectives, in partnership with the Plant City Police Department, did an outstanding job investigating this organized crime enterprise,” said Grady Judd, Sheriff. “This type of theft negatively impacts the consumer when businesses have to raise costs to account for this type of loss. We will work hard to make sure Herrera and Howard are held accountable for these cargo thefts. They won’t have the opportunity to steal while they are in prison.”