PLANT CITY, Fla. — A Florida business owner and one of his employees are accused of coordinating the thefts of 25 semi-trailers to take nearly 5,000 wooden pallets for their pallet supplier company in Polk County.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office says the two men were arrested and accused of stealing roughly $704,487 worth of pallets.
According to detectives, the duo operated JCI Pallet in Plant City. The sheriff's office says 45-year-old owner Bobby John Herrera, Jr., of West Palm Beach, and 36-year-old on-site manager Nicholas Nigel Howard, of Opa Locka, are charged with a combined 67 felonies.
The combined value of the stolen trailers and pallets was, according to law enforcement, about $935,663.
Investigators opened the case after seven semi-trailers containing wooden pallets were reported stolen from two distribution centers in late July. Authorities say those trailers were taken from Saddle Creek Logistical Services in Auburndale and the Walmart Distribution Center in Winter Haven.
During the subsequent investigation, Polk County detectives said they realized a series of trailer thefts had been caught on security video. Herrera would drive a company truck and illegally remove trailers that were waiting to be delivered elsewhere, authorities said.
"Herrera was able to circumvent security procedures at the distribution centers to steal the semi-trailers and their contents," the sheriff's office wrote in an email.
Howard is accused of helping Herrera.
According to the sheriff's office, the pallet-filled trailers would be taken to JCI Pallet and then either emptied before being returned or simply abandoned without the stolen cargo.
"Two of the trailers stolen by Herrera were determined to be empty when they were stolen from the distribution centers," the sheriff's office added. "All of the stolen trailers were eventually recovered."
As the case progressed, detectives say they went to Herrera's business and met with him.
"When detectives showed him one of the security videos, Herrera said, 'That looks like me,'" the sheriff's office wrote.
Herrera was arrested in September and later released from the Hillsborough County Jail on $4,000 bond. He was then arrested again and taken back to the jail on additional charges, including counts of burglary, forgery and grand theft.
Howard was arrested in Opa Locka and taken to the Miami-Dade County Jail. Investigators say he faces charges that include counts for burglary and grand theft.
"My detectives, in partnership with the Plant City Police Department, did an outstanding job investigating this organized crime enterprise," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd wrote in a statement.
"This type of theft negatively impacts the consumer when business have to raise costs to account for this type of loss," Judd added. "We will work hard to make sure Herrera and Howard are held accountable for these cargo thefts. They won’t have the opportunity to steal while they are in prison."
The sheriff's office said Herrera and Howard both have prior criminal charges that include fraud on their records.