WICHITA — Two California men are expected to plead guilty to trying to steal a truckload of packaged beef from a Kansas slaughterhouse in a federal case that prosecutors say exemplifies a relatively new form of identity theft in which suspects pose as a legitimate trucking firm to steal cargo.
By ROXANA HEGEMAN The Associated Press
A change-of-plea hearing is scheduled Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wichita for 53-year-old Oganes Nagapetian and his 50-year-old brother, Tigran Nagapetian. A federal judge in October dropped all charges against Larisa Nagapetian, the wife of Oganes Nagapetian, at the government’s request. All are from North Hollywood, Calif.
Prosecutors indicted the Nagapetians in April with conspiracy to violate U.S. laws. The indictment also alleges wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, as well as possession and production of false documents. The government is also seeking a forfeiture judgment.
“This case implicates a relatively new and bold modus operandi of theft in which the perpetrators steal the identity of a legitimate trucking company – usually a smaller independent hauler – to obtain freight hauling contracts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson wrote in a court filing. “They then show up with their own tractor and trailer at the businesses wanting to ship a trailer-load of goods to a buyer, receive the load of whatever is being shipped – then simply drive off with the goods, often worth $100,000 or more.”
The Kansas case offers a glimpse of how the scam – known in the industry as fictitious or fraudulent pickups – works. The indictment accuses the defendants of trying to steal in 2011 a truckload of meat worth $82,700 from a Tyson meatpacking plant in Holcomb, Kan. Prosecutors allege the suspects stole the identity of a Pennsylvania freight hauler in order to get the contract to pick up the meat from the Kansas slaughterhouse.
The plan was foiled after a suspicious Ohio freight broker – who had been victimized by a similar scheme a few months earlier – noticed discrepancies in the trucking firm’s insurance and called the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a court document. At the FBI’s request, the broker awarded the hauling bid to the impostors anyway. Law enforcement had them under surveillance when they dropped off a refrigerated truck at the Kansas slaughterhouse for loading.
The indictment filed in the case also alleges as part of its conspiracy count that a person fitting Oganes Nagapetian’s description and using the same falsified commercial driver’s license stole a truckload of almonds worth $76,000 in Caruthers, Calif.; a load of shoes worth $236,700 in Mira Loma, Calif.; and a load of electric heaters worth $65,000 in Commerce, Calif.
Last year, carriers reported nearly 1,200 cargo thefts of all kinds nationwide, about the same as the previous year, according to CargoNet, a division of Verisk Crime Analytics.