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Acampo group responsible for string of container thefts, police say

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Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 5:16 pm

In the dark of night, when most thieves are typically browsing quiet neighborhoods seeking the easy score, a small group from Acampo was allegedly pulling off a string of elaborate heists, police said.

Reportedly armed with stolen semi-trucks, large tractors typically used to scoop dirt, and trailers stretching dozens of feet long, officers believe the team routinely invaded stockyards filled with massive storage containers. Without warning, the group went to work.

Machines loaded the containers onto the backs of semis. Then, unnoticed, the thieves would drive away, police said.

Every couple of days, authorities would receive several reports of stolen containers, but for months the heists continued.

However, last week authorities raided a rural Acampo area, recovering several hundred thousand dollars in stolen property, and significantly affecting a record-setting rise in commercial and cargo thefts.

Investigators from multiple agencies served a search warrant at a property near Peltier Road on May 1. Officers arrested two individuals suspected of stealing commercial vehicles and storage containers and selling the containers throughout San Joaquin County and Northern California, according to California Highway Patrol. Several more suspects are reportedly at large.

Authorities recovered several stolen items, including a 2008 GMC pickup, a 2011 International tractor truck, a 1987 Caterpillar loader, five large sea containers, five container chassis, a stolen handgun and more.

The suspects used stolen semi-trucks and chassis, which connect to the back of semis and are used to carry the containers, to steal and transport metal cargo containers, some reaching 53 feet long, from container yards in the south Stockton and Lathrop area, said Sgt. Matt McKee of the Delta Regional Auto Theft Team (Delta RATT).

Containers were sold for as little as $800. But a gently used, 30-foot container retails for around $4,000, said CHP spokesman Officer James Smith. And McKee said the suspects may have sold containers as far north as Redding.

Once the containers were sold, typically to people who used them for storage on their property, the suspects disposed of the stolen semi-trucks and chassis, police said.

“In this particular instance, it appears it was a traditional steal and resell,” McKee said. “Then they were chopping up some of the chassis or dumping them somewhere.”

Police believe the suspects started this process in January, when authorities saw a sizable spike in storage container thefts throughout San Joaquin County, McKee said. Several containers were reported stolen every couple of days, he said. In one instance, a semi-truck was abandoned with the chassis and container still attached, McKee said.

Authorities believe the individuals involved in last week’s bust were major contributors to that spike. While the search for other suspects continues, McKee said this raid should help thwart local container thefts.

“This was a significant arrest in this investigation,” McKee said. “I think we could expect an appreciable decrease (in storage container thefts). My hope is that this is going to disrupt these suspects and we’ll see a significant decrease in commercial thefts in San Joaquin County.”

Authorities are not releasing the names of the two individuals apprehended during the raid because the investigation is ongoing. They believe a small group of suspects was involved, Smith said.

These thefts aren’t simple feats. The individuals involved are well-versed in the equipment and the industry, McKee said.

“This was an organized process,” McKee said. “There needs to be a specific skill set, commercial background, the ability to operate these type of vehicles, knowledge of the industry and connections to sell these containers.”

Investigators from Delta RATT, the Cargo Theft Interdiction Program, along with San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and CHP served the search warrant, which was part of an ongoing investigation.

Investigators are asking for the public’s help in locating additional containers. Anyone with information is asked to contact Delta RATT at 209-948-3790.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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