The search for millions of dollars of cigarettes stolen from an East Peoria warehouse on Sunday has reached as far as the New York and Miami areas, authorities said Wednesday.
Detective Kevin Beckman of the East Peoria Police Department said stolen semi trucks and trailers that have been recovered include one trailer found abandoned Tuesday on the New Jersey Turnpike near Newark, N.J.
About 12:30 a.m. Sunday, East Peoria police responded to a break-in at Federal Warehouse Co., 200 National Road along Illinois Route 116.
There, they found four forklifts still running with their lights on, large boxes of cigarettes knocked to the floor and a bay door left open. On the roof were cutting tools, a drill, two pairs of gloves and a ladder.
Police believe five to 10 burglars gained entry by cutting a hole in the roof. Because snow and ice were on the roof, water damage was sustained in corporate offices, the operations center and an information technology area, said Jeff Bogdan, company co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing.
Beckman estimated the break-in took place between 2 and 9 a.m. Sunday. The alarm system had been shut off.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI are involved in the investigation, along with Illinois State Police.
Without specifically classifying the suspects as members of organized crime, Beckman said federal agencies are aware of “organized groups” that specialize in stealing cigarettes, often by circumventing security systems and using locally stolen semis. Beckman said those involved in the Federal heist are believed to be from Miami.
“These are organized crews that law enforcement, especially in Florida and on the eastern seaboard, are familiar with,” Beckman said. “There are several crews that cargo-theft task forces are investigating.”
The cigarettes had not yet been tagged with tax stamps, which typically occurs after they have reached the states in which they will be sold. The cigarettes probably will be sold on the black market, Beckman said.
The trailer found in New Jersey was stolen from G&D Transportation in Morton. Three other stolen G&D trailers were found on the Federal property. One Federal trailer and three additional G&D trailers remain missing, Beckman said.
Two semis stolen from Unisource in Morton were recovered at the scene, and one truck from Mathis-Kelly in Morton was found on a dirt road that runs underneath Interstate 74.
Two trucks stolen from DeHater in East Peoria and one Unisource truck remain missing, Beckman said.
Citing confidentiality agreements with customers who store goods with Federal, Bogdan declined to specify the brand of cigarettes stolen, the quantity or the resale value.
Because one trailer was found in New Jersey and four others remain unaccounted for, police deduced that five loads of cigarettes were taken. That amount of cigarettes is believed to be worth several million dollars.
“Items of evidentiary nature, which will be helpful in the investigation, were recovered,” Beckman said of the recovered trucks and trailers.
Bogdan said the company is thankful no employees were present during the break-in. He said the cigarettes were insured and there was enough supply to fill all delivery orders.
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