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Feds charge 8 men in multi-year beer cargo theft scheme

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Eight men are facing federal charges in connection with a multi-year beer cargo theft scheme in the Northeast.

Authorities say that between July 2022 and March 2024, ringleader Jose Cesari, 27, and several others took part in a multi-year scheme to steal beer dubbed the “Beer Theft Enterprise.”

Members of the Beer Theft Enterprise are accused of stealing beer — usually Mexican lagers — from railroad cars and beverage distribution facilities located throughout the Northeast, including in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The beer thieves allegedly conducted dozens of beer thefts, resulting in losses to certain beverage distribution companies of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Here’s how authorities describe the scheme:

In a typical theft, the Beer Theft Enterprise operated under cover of night. At least some of the members of the Enterprise working that night assembled in the Bronx before traveling to that night’s target railyard or beverage distribution facility.  Typically, one or more members working that night drove a vehicle — often a U-Haul box truck — to the target location to be filled with cases of stolen beer. After arriving at the railyard or beverage distribution facility, members of the Enterprise commonly gained unauthorized access by cutting a hole in the fencing surrounding the location.  When stealing from a railyard, members frequently cut the lock to railroad cars containing sealed pallets of cases of beer — usually Corona or Modelo — then unsealed the pallets and transported the cases of beer to their waiting vehicles.  Generally, they transported the stolen beer to the Bronx, where it was inspected and made available for sale. The participating members of the Beer Theft Enterprise were usually paid hundreds of dollars for the night’s work after assisting in a beer theft.

FBI Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy said, “Train heists harken back to the days of the Wild West and gunslingers riding horses, stealing loot from rail cars.  The romanticized image has nothing to do with the modern-day criminals we allege took part in a theft ring in New Jersey, New York, and beyond that targeted railyards and beverage distribution centers.  They used the cover of night to cut through fencing, off-load pallets of beer, and sold off the stolen goods, costing the victims’ companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The alleged ringleader Cesari often used a weapon during the robberies.  Our team of agents and investigators working on this case has done an outstanding job bringing these alleged thieves’ crime spree to the end of the line.”

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “For years, the Beer Theft Enterprise has operated brazenly, allegedly breaking into railyards and beverage distribution facilities throughout the Northeast and filling U-Haul box trucks to the brim with cases of beer.  That dangerous and disruptive conduct — sometimes allegedly accompanied by the threat of violence — has left several beverage distribution and railroad companies ailing. Today’s arrests reinforce that the Beer Theft Enterprise’s staggering thefts will not be tolerated in the Southern District of New York.”

See the table below for more information on the charges each defendant is facing.

Count ChargeDefendantsMin. and Max. Penalties
1Conspiracy to steal from interstate or foreign shipments by carrier, and to break and enter carrier facilities with intent to commit larceny thereinCESARI, 27; MIGUEL CINTRON, 32; LUIS IZQUIERDO, 40; WAKIEM JOHNSON, 31; KEMAR BONITTO, 38; DEYLIN MARTINEZ-GUERRERO, 28; ANTONIO GONZALEZ, 33; and JUSTIN BRUNO, 23Maximum sentence of five years in prison
2Theft from interstate or foreign shipmentsCESARI, CINTRON, IZQUIERDO, and JOHNSONMaximum sentence of 10 years in prison
3Theft from interstate or foreign shipmentsCESARI, BONITTO,and GONZALEZMaximum sentence of 10 years in prison
4Theft from interstate or foreign shipmentsCESARI and BRUNOMaximum sentence of 10 years in prison
5Conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robberyCESARIMaximum sentence of 20 years in prison
6Hobbs Act robberyCESARIMaximum sentence of 20 years in prison
7Using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of, a crime of violenceCESARIMandatory minimum consecutive sentence of seven years in prisonMaximum sentence of life in prison

The case was investigated by the FBI, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the CSX Police Department

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