South Florida

Food Theft: South Florida is a Hot-Spot For a Crime That Could Impact Your Family's Health

When it comes to cargo theft, food items are most commonly stolen.

“Florida’s a big market for seafood theft," said Keith Lewis with Cargo Net, a product distribution industry trade group.

In 2015, CargoNet reports $175 million in cargo was stolen nationwide and 28 percent was food and/or beverages.

It happened to Keyla Bracho’s family shrimp business in 2013. The company turned 800 cases of shrimp over to Jose Cestony to deliver it.

But she says Cestony called to say his refrigerated truck broke down and the shrimp was no longer good.

"He said he threw the product in the garbage," Bracho stated.

But a suspicious Bracho called Miami Dade Police and its cargo theft task force.

Task force detectives went to the dumpster where Cestony said he dumped the shrimp but found no evidence it was there. Instead, they tracked it down where it had been sold. The shrimp valued at $158,000 had been sold for $32,000.

Cestony was given probation after being found guilty for the theft charge.

The task force has recovered some other large shipments of food. Police released surveillance video they say shows men negotiating over a shipment of tuna stolen from central Florida valued at $123,000.

The men are seen in the video in the back of a rented truck allegedly discussing a sale of the stolen tuna.

In another case, police recovered 9,000 pounds of stolen lobster.

"Shrimp, lobster, anything like that that stuff is very, very easy to get rid of," says Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Carlos Rosario.

Rosario says the Miami area is one of the top places in the country where stolen items are brought to be sold.

"We’ve found that a good number of cargo stolen, sometimes from all over the United States, ends up right here in South Florida and goes into sort of like the fencing process," he said.

Rosario and his task force of detectives are in a race against the clock to find stolen shipments and keep them from being sold to distributors, restaurants and grocery stores who may not know they’re dealing in stolen items.

"Sometimes these distributors, not only do they purchase illegal consumables and perishables from cargo thieves, they also buy legitimately," Rosario said. "If you’re a restaurant purchasing from your distributor and he tells you, well look, I have this lobster that came in, I have a great deal on it and you end up buying it, you may very well not know that what you are buying for your customers, and their consumers, has been out of temperature and it’s stolen product."

He says there are concerns that food quality standards aren’t upheld by cargo thieves.

"We see it all the time. Where cargo thieves will steal certain perishables that need to be kept at certain temperatures and once we get it that perishable is out of temperature. Sometimes even out of temperature completely and just being hauled in like a rental box truck without any refrigeration," said Rosario.

Police say cargo thieves used to hijack trucks, but there are fewer cases of this kind of violence now.

Police say thieves are going on message boards where distributors advertise they need a shipment delivered. Then, thieves will steal a legitimate trucking company's identity in order to drive off with the product.

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