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Task Force Combats Cargo Theft in Memphis

Cargo theft reaches beyond the borders of Tennessee; it’s a multi-billion dollar criminal industry in this country.


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Mollie Halpern: Cargo trailers, ships and rail yards.

Memphis, Tennessee is one of the major transportation and shipping hubs in the United States.

The city is home to Fortune 500 corporations as well as many other companies which locate their product distribution centers here.

And, where there is product—there are those willing to steal it.

Conrad Straube: There’s really a market for everything out there. If somebody wants it, it can be stolen. We’ve handled cases that involve stolen tires, stolen electronics, TVs. We’ve dealt with clothing apparel, pharmaceuticals are a big thing right now because of the value they have on the streets.

Halpern: Memphis is a hot spot for Cargo theft; the city has one of the seven cargo task forces the FBI operates around the country to combat the crime.

Special Agent Conrad Straube is the Coordinator for the Memphis Cargo Theft Task Force—which is made up of members of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

We caught up with the task force investigating a case.

Cargo theft reaches beyond the borders of Tennessee; it’s a multi-billion dollar criminal industry in this country.

Straube: The truth of the matter is, it’s a global problem but here in the United States, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago and Memphis are probably the four biggest areas affected when it comes to cargo theft.

Halpern: The FBI’s focus when initiating a cargo theft investigation is to identify and dismantle groups operating as a criminal enterprise.

Straube: So, it’s really scary, the organized crime aspect and every time we get a case of cargo theft we carefully analyze it to see if that’s the case, or potentially the case,and if there’s a potential for that you bet that’s one that we’re going to handle right away and put all our manpower into.

Halpern: Many groups behind the theft of cargo use the illegal proceeds to fund their criminal operations. Take gangs, for example…

Straube: What do gangs do with money? They buy drugs and they buy guns. If they’re buying drugs and guns you can just imagine how that hurts us on the homeland here.

Halpern: Traditionally, convenience stores owners and mom and pop shops are some of the willing buyers of stolen cargo.

These days, the goods are also sold on the Internet.

Straube: Thieves think that if they try to avoid moving things within their hometown or wherever they stole it that they’re not going to get caught. And, they do that now by going online and using different websites to try to fence the stuff through the web. So if you go to these auction style sites and they post any kind of merchandise basically they don’t ever have to meet the person that’s buying the merchandise..

Halpern: Cargo theft has many victims, from transportation companies to manufacturers. But, it’s consumers who often end up paying the price.

Straube: When you think about victims and who’s truly a victim of cargo theft, we like to think about consumers. When things are stolen eventually the effect of that is prices are going to go up on products. Whether shoes are stolen, pharmaceuticals are stolen, tires are stolen -somebody has to end up paying for that.

Halpern: If the price seems too good to be true, chances are, the item was stolen.

Straube: If you’re buying stolen product you need to know and understand that you’re probably funding something- whether that be organized crime in gangs, organized crime possibly in terrorist activities, you just need to understand that that’s what happens money is going somewhere to somebody.

Halpern: The Memphis Cargo Task Force partners with other task forces and local law enforcement to share intelligence.

Straube: It’s just a great working relationship we’ve had with all of the agencies over the years 10:06 together, combined we’re able to maximize our resources. And, being able to work with the other departments…being able to share task force having such a great relationship is paramount. Without that, we wouldn’t be where we are.

Halpern: To learn more about the FBI’s role in combating cargo theft, visit www.fbi.gov.