Inside "Grand Theft Cargo" - Meet "The Trucker" and "The Broker"

From start to finish, it took "the Trucker" thirty seconds to break into his own truck.
From start to finish, it took "the Trucker" thirty seconds to break into his own truck.

It'll be a while before I find two characters like "The Trucker" and "The Broker," the stars of our investigative story on cargo theft rings.

From the moment they sat down both men left nothing on the table, peeling away the inner workings of the rings they still worked for: how they operate, the roles of each member involved, what ethnic groups allegedly control certain sections of the country (Cuban-Americans in South Florida; Mexican-Americans in California and Texas; Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia and Chicago; Russian mob in New York.)

The rings, said The Broker, usually consist of about 15 people. The guy who steals the truck (he gets a cut), then maybe a crooked driver (cut), a manager or worker inside a distribution center who tips off the ring (cut), a broker (cut), and then the buyers. The rest of the group either unload or load the merchandise.

"The Broker" told me he makes around 50K a month, tax free. He has between 7-10 customers for the stolen goods he sells -- buyers who can each take 2,000 flat-screen televisions, paying about $300 for something tat retails for $1,000 -- a 70 percent discount. The buyer then resells the entire load to, say, a guy from South America who pays $700 per set, and then ships them all back home.

"You have people from Brazil that have big distribution companies," said The Broker. "They steal merchandise because it's cheaper. In 80 percent of the cases they have to take it [the merchandise} out of the country because of the {serial} numbers."

The Trucker was equally honest. How much does he make ripping off trucks during the course of a year?

"From 200 to 250 thousand dollars," he said.

Stunned, I said, "For you personally?"

"For me personally," he said, adding, "If I make $250,000 a year, I calculate anywhere between $80-90 million that I have stolen in property."

He told me he could steal most trucks anytime, anywhere, as he showed us in the piece. He also cashed in on his own loads - leaving his 18-wheeler unattended at a pre-arranged truck stop to be stolen by other thieves.

Okay, I said, I could see how you might get away with that once or twice but about the third or fourth time. Don't people get suspicious?

"Then you change freight companies," said The Trucker. "There's 20,000 in the U.S. You do three or four, and you go to another one {company} or they let you go and you continue."

I couldn't get that thought out of my head. So a couple of weekends ago during a trip along Highway 78 in New Jersey on our way to southern Virginia, my wife and I spent a half-hour calling out - and writing down -- names of trucking/freight/transport companies barreling down the highway. In just one 30 minute stretch we counted more than 100 different companies. All I could think about was how good all these goods must look to cargo theft rings - one rolling ATM machine after another.

Carrots, red onions, yogurt, medicine, computer hard drives, whiskey, jeans, perfume, I learned it doesn't matter how it looks or how it smells because, in the end, it all sells.

"A truck full of yogurt is a truck," said The Trucker, "and somebody is going to pay for it."