Pastor among 6 suspected of swiping truck cargo

A former law enforcement officer turned semi-truck driver and preacher was among five people arrested in a cargo theft ring.

Alexander Nealy of Plant City is identified as a pastor on the website for Bay City of Refuge Ministries in Tampa.

The 36-year-old, along with Robert Barahona, 45, and Jorge Salazar Brito, 27, drove trucks for SalSon Logistics, distributing merchandise to Macy's stores across Florida.

Nealy was arrested on June 25, after investigators discovered more than 600 boxes filled with nearly $300,000 worth of merchandise from Macy's and Bloomingdale's in his storage units in Ybor City and other parts of Tampa.

"They meticulously, very carefully and very professionally open the boxes. When they open the boxes, they steal part of the product from the boxes," explained Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Investigators say the men would then deliver the boxes with missing merchandise to retailers. Designer purses, watches, shoes and clothing were recovered.

Macy's and Bloomingdale's reported approximately $355,228 worth of additional merchandise missing, totaling more than $600,000 worth of goods authorities say were likely stolen in the theft ring.

Barahona and Salazar were arrested after deputies observed them stopping along their route and moving boxes from their trucks to a large shipping container at 2000 N. 59th Street in Tampa, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Nealy is a former deputy with the DeSoto County Sheriff's Office and a former police officer with Cocoa police and Titusville police departments.

"Pastor Nealy is not only a truck driver and a pastor, he's a thief," said Sheriff Judd. "He is going to be held liable for his charges, and I'm certain God will have something to say about it later on himself."

Nealy, Barahona, and Salazar all face charges of felony cargo theft.

Patrick Brown and Jerome McCord, both 35, were also arrested for dealing in stolen property. According to the sheriff, Nealy contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office after the men allegedly stole items from his storage unit. When asked where he got the merchandise, Nealy told them he purchased it online.

Authorities are searching for Timothy Waring, a transient in Lakeland and Tampa.

The investigation, called "Operation Truck Stop," was a joint operation between the Polk County Sheriff's Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Tampa police and the Florida Highway Patrol.