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Sophisticated thieves grab big rigs

The recent theft of two semitrailer trucks full of various merchandise from a local trucking company is likely the work of an international theft ring, sheriff's officials said Tuesday.

One of the big rigs stolen from Goggins Trucking Co. near Palm River last weekend turned up empty Monday in Delray Beach. The other, stolen Monday night, is still missing, deputies said. Authorities said the missing merchandise aboard the rigs was valued at about $750,000.

"The people who are involved appear to be very organized and appear to target certain shipments," said Lt. David Gee. "They seem to go after a lot of general merchandise and things easy to get rid of."

The thefts appear to be related to three similar incidents in Orlando in the past several months, authorities said. A few of the tractor trailers have been found, all empty and in South Florida.

The items are likely being shipped to foreign countries, possibly out of the port of Miami, Gee said.

Both Tampa trucks contained miscellaneous items belonging to local Wal-Mart stores, and probably included over-the-counter and prescription drugs, deputies said.

A month ago, Miami authorities arrested two people for stealing semitrailer trucks, Gee said. But the thefts have continued.

The thieves strike at night, Gee said, slashing through security fences and stealing the entire vehicle, only to abandon it later.

Tommy Hodges, president of Tennessee-based Goggins Trucking Co., said a semitrailer truck was stolen in the past few months from their Orlando location, as well.

"It's the same type of procedure. They hot-wired the truck, and stole truck and trailer," Hodges said.

The national trucking company has hired 24-hour guards to discourage more heists, he said.

"They case the place. They know exactly when we're there and when we're not there," Hodges said. "These folks are pretty sophisticated and know how to get in and out of there fast. They're on a shopping expedition."

Trucks at the business, at 5414 Hartford St., have been raided before, Hodges said, but never the entire vehicles.

Authorities at the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Miami are investigating the incidents, Gee said. The FBI had no comment.

Hodges said his company has been dealing with the FBI. "They said this is fast becoming an epidemic," he said.