Authorities in Florida have arrested and charged three men in connection to a large-scale cargo theft scheme.
Rene Hechevarria Echemend, 33, Ernesto Aguilera Baute, 36, and Jose Luis Batista Suarez, 40, were arrested on August 4 on charges of grand theft cargo of over $50,000 and obtaining property over $5,000, according to NBC Miami.
Authorities say that the three men were part of a scheme to steal more than $1.3 million worth of seafood from NETUNO, a Fort Lauderdale seafood importer, by posing as a grocery store buyer.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), food orders were placed by a person identifying himself as grocery store buyer Brian Gomez on June 21, June 30, July 14, July 27 and July 29.
After each order, NETUNO would direct Gomez to pick up the load from a warehouse in Medley, Florida.
Forty-five days after the first order placed by Gomez, NETUNO workers became suspicious and contacted the grocery store’s headquarters, only to learn that there was no Brian Gomez on staff and that the email address he used was fraudulent.
Police launched an investigation and began to surveil the warehouse in Medley.
Around 9:30 a.m. on August 4, officers spotted the truck and trailer used in the previous cargo thefts backing into the dock at the warehouse.
Officers followed the truck and a red Mustang following the truck to a warehouse in Weston. About 15 minutes after the truck arrived at the facility, police approached and arrested the three men without incident.
FHP said that Aguilera Baute and Hechevarria Echemend were responsible for the first five cargo theft incidents, allegedly stealing $1.3 million worth of product. Batista Suarez was involved in the sixth and final cargo theft incident, reportedly stealing about $300,000 worth of product. This product was still in the trailer when the men were arrested, according to reports.
Investigators say that the men used their cellphones to coordinate the cargo thefts.