To Catch A Cargo Thief

by Jana Ritter - Published: 1/07/2013

The U.S. Marshals are on the hunt for James Farmer Lewis, a cargo thief with several federal felony convictions for stealing tractor-trailers full of shipped goods from all over the country and currently indicted for interstate theft and transportation of stolen goods. According to Deputy U.S. Marshal Mike Walker, Lewis steals tractor-trailer loads - tractors occasionally but trailer loads of goods frequently and he has a record of several federal trailer theft convictions in Missouri, Oklahoma and Illinois. Lewis has been at this for years, and depending on the luck of the draw, can steal loads worth up to a million dollars in minutes. "He's just very prolific at this and has continued to do it for at least the last 15 years that I know of", Walker says. Describing the most recent incident, Walker reports, "Mr. Lewis backed his tractor under the trailer and stole the trailer load of goods, which was candy bars from Nestles and Wonka brand that was coming out of Illinois. Later, there was a trailer load of goods involving Axe brand body products that was recovered here in Springfield that Mr. Lewis had also stolen."


But Lewis isn't the only thief authorities need to catch. Cargo theft has been on rise and according to FreightWatch, the average value of stolen freight spiked 77.6% September through November from the previous three-month period of 2012 and CargoNet reports cargo theft rose 22% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2012. With high-value electronics being the most common product stolen, the average value per theft incident was estimated at $242,496, while general cargo theft incidents can amount to losses between $10,000 and $1 million. These losses do not only concern transportation carriers, truck cargo theft causes significant losses for a wide range of manufactures and according to a 2010 estimate by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it eventually affects the entire country amounting to $30 billion a year.

The FBI also reports that truck robberies are often committed by members of organized-crime groups, as well as gangs and are occurring in California, Texas and Florida more often than any other states. As products are often transported in unmarked containers, it is easy to speculate these thefts are almost always an inside job. Anthony Cowie, Senior Vice President of Swiss Re explains, “There will often be inside information passed from someone who knows what's in a shipment. Typically there are organized syndicates doing these crimes.” But other thieves are simply opportunistic and will randomly steal a truck before they know what is inside. Bert Mayo, Vice President of Risk Control Services with Lockton says that many times drivers taking a lunch or dinner break sometimes return to discover their truck and trailer are gone. “The trucks are not exactly difficult to steal”, says Mayo. “It's a matter of breaking a pretty insecure lock on the door, and for a lot of trucks being made today, one master key can start a whole series of trucks.”

While the search for these criminals continues, Deputy Walker advises the trucking industry to simply pay attention to the people and trucks around your business, keep track of who should be there and who should not.