PLANT CITY, Fla. - Polk County detectives say two men were part of an organized cargo theft conspiracy that led to five businesses being defrauded. Officials also said the duo stole 25 semi-trailers and about $704,487 of wooden pallets.
According to officials, the stolen property, in total, was worth nearly $1 million.
Detectives said they began investigating in July after receiving a theft report for seven semi-trucks from two different distribution centers: Saddle Creek Logistical Services in Auburndale and the Walmart Distribution Center in Winter Haven. The stolen property contained a large number of wooden pallets.
During the investigation, officials said they connected 45-year-old Bobby John Herrera, Jr. – who is from West Palm Beach – to three semi-trucks with trailers filled with pallets They said the pallets were either stolen or burglarized by him. He is the owner of JCI Pallet in Plant City.
Security cameras captured Herrera driving his company's 2015 Freightliner semi-truck onto both facilities and illegally removing semi-trucks filled with wooden pallets. Those stolen trucks were waiting to be delivered to other distribution centers and businesses, detectives said.
Investigators said Herrera "circumvented" security procedures at the Auburndale and Winter Haven locations to gain access and steal the trucks.
When detectives interviewed Herrera at his Plant City business, they showed him one of the security videos. According to officials, Herrera said, "That looks like me." He was arrested in September.
Also during the investigation, detectives learned that 36-year-old Nicholas Nigel Howard of Opa Locka – the on-site manager of JCI Pallet – helped Herrera remove the stolen trailers from two different distribution centers, affecting four different companies.
Polk detectives said between May and July, both suspects "planned and coordinated the theft of 25 semi-trailers which contained almost 5,000 wooden pallets…The victims of Herrara’s and Howard’s organized cargo theft conspiracy were Saddle Creek Logistics, Walmart, 48Forty Solutions, and Monison Pallets."
Investigators said they tracked the stolen trailers to JCI Pallet, where they were emptied before they were returned or abandoned. Two of the stolen trailers were emptied while at the distribution centers.
Officials said all of the stolen trailers were recovered.
"Additionally, a business in Alabama, Smith and Company, had hired Herrera to deliver pallets to Saddle Creek Logistical Solutions," according to a news release by the sheriff's office. "Herrera never delivered the product. Instead, he submitted a fraudulently signed bill of ladings (detailed shipment of goods delivered) and invoices for pallets never delivered."
Both men were arrested.
"My detectives, in partnership with the Plant City Police Department, did an outstanding job investigating this organized crime enterprise," Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement. "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."