Police say EP warehouse burglary was a coordinated operation

Cigarettes possibly worth $1 million or more in retail value were stolen during Sunday’s break-in at Federal Warehouse Co.

East Peoria police estimate three to five stolen semitrailers were filled with cigarettes during the heist discovered early Sunday afternoon in the building at 200 National Road along Illinois Route 116.

The police investigation, which also will involve state and national agencies, on Monday began revealing details of a burglary in which the burglars cut a hole in the roof to get inside. Federal’s alarm system was shut off, and semis and trailers stolen from Morton companies apparently were used to haul away the booty.

“The bottom line is, this seems to be a very coordinated, professional operation,” East Peoria Police Chief Ed Papis said. “This was well orchestrated.”

East Peoria police officers draw their guns as they search for burglars on the roof of the Federal Warehouse building in East Peoria on Sunday afternoon. The Peoria Fire Department provided the bucket truck to help officers get on the roof.

East Peoria police officers draw their guns as they search for burglars on the roof of the Federal Warehouse building in East Peoria on Sunday afternoon. The Peoria Fire Department provided the bucket truck to help officers get on the roof.

Jeff Bogdan, Federal co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing, said nothing appeared to have been stolen except for a large quantity of boxes of cigarettes.

Bogdan said the cigarettes, owned by tobacco companies but stored and distributed by Federal, were insured. As the company checked its inventory Monday to determine the extent of the burglary, Bogdan declined to provide a monetary estimate for the stolen cigarettes or damage to the building. Asked if the lost cigarettes’ value could reach seven figures, Bodgan said it is possible.

“The biggest thing here is, no one was injured and customers’ goods are safe,” said Bogdan. His company also stores a variety of items including agricultural products, motorcycles, vital records and items for retail items for home delivery.

Papis also declined to provide a monetary estimate.

“All I can say is, there were a large amount of cigarettes taken,” Papis said. “This is a major felony.”

Detective Kevin Beckman said the heist could be the work of an East Coast group blamed for several similar large-scale burglaries of cigarettes throughout the country. That group is known for using locally stolen trucks and for its ability to disable alarm systems, Beckman said.

“They’re good at it,” Beckman said. “This is an alarmed building (at Federal), and no alarm went off.”

Beckman estimated a crew of five to 10 people pulled off Sunday’s burglary.

“It was a substantial amount that was taken,” Beckman said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 16 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this.”

About 12:30 p.m. Sunday, East Peoria were called to the warehouse. A semi driver had noticed a bay door was open but no employees were around.

Police found four forklifts still running with lights on inside the warehouse, according to a police report. Near the forklifts, several pallets of large boxes of cigarettes were strewn about the floor and damaged. A hole had been cut in the roof of the building, causing water damage inside the building, the report said.

A bucket truck from the Peoria Fire Department arrived to let officers onto the roof. There, police found cutting tools, a drill, two pairs of gloves and an extension ladder.

On Sunday and Monday, police located and examined several hot-wired and stolen semi trucks and trailers on Federal Warehouse property and at other nearby locations. Beckman said Illinois State Police crime scene units were examining evidence in those vehicles and in the warehouse, but declined to describe the nature of the evidence. All of the trailers had been emptied of stolen cigarettes by the time police found them, Beckman said.

“We believe that the people who committed the crimes are now gone” from the area, Beckman said.

By Monday afternoon, police had retrieved two Unisource semi trucks attached to two trailers stolen from another Morton location, G&D Transportation. Beckman said those trucks were backed up near doors at Federal, “staged” to be loaded.

Another Unisource semi truck remained missing.

Also stolen were a trailer owned by Federal and a semi owned by Mathis-Kelly, also of Morton. The Mathis-Kelly semi was found on Altorfer Lane, a dirt road underneath Interstate 74. Police believe that semi was set up to be hooked to a trailer sometime during the getaway.

Police speculate at least some of the abandoned semis and trailers were used sometime during the heist before the stolen cigarettes were transferred into other trucks. Beckman and Bogdan said that within the cargo industry, cigarettes are known to be coveted black-market items.

“This isn’t unique to Federal,” Bogdan said. “It has happened before in the tobacco industry.

“(The break-in) will be reviewed, I can assure you. We’ll do whatever we think we need to do to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

source: www.pjstar.com

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