Local News

Highlands part of statewide cargo theft ring

SEBRING - Three have been arrested and authorities are seeking two others for their alleged involvement in a statewide organized cargo theft ring that operated a "stash house" for stolen merchandise and trucks in Highlands County, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Investigators believe the suspects committed dozens of cargo thefts in Florida, stealing millions in products such as electronics, food, tires, clothing and pharmaceuticals, the FDLE reports. The suspects are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), grand theft over $100,000, cargo theft and burglary. During the investigation, law enforcement recovered six stolen semi-tractors and nine stolen semi-trailers, some of which still had the stolen merchandise inside, the FDLE states. The suspects were found to have stash houses in Highlands and Hillsborough counties where stolen tractor- trailers were taken to off load the cargo before being transported to Miami.
Special Agent Supervisor Mark Willis said there was one stash house in Highlands County near State Road 70. "It's a complicated case covering Polk County down to Dade," he noted. Those arrested are Iandy Jimenez, 34, of Lakeland; Alexis Palau, 48, of Miami Lakes; and Enrique Bernardez, 46, of Mulberry. Jimenez was arrested May 10 in Polk County and booked into the Polk County Jail with bond set at $165,000. Palau was arrested June 2 in New Mexico by U.S. Customs officers and extradited to Polk County. He was booked into the Polk County Jail with bond set at $50,000. Bernardez was arrested June 30 in Osceola County and booked into the Polk County Jail with bond set at $215,000. The joint investigation involved multiple law enforcement agencies, including 10 sheriff's offices that includes Highlands, Polk and Hillsborough counties, The Florida Commercial Vehicle and Cargo Theft Task Force, Florida Highway Patrol, CSX Railroad Police and the Haines City Police Department. The investigation is ongoing and FDLE anticipates additional arrests. Anyone with information about this crime ring should contact the FDLE Sebring Office at (863) 386-6085. The investigation will be prosecuted by the Office of State Wide Prosecution in Orlando, according to the FDLE. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826