LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Three Florida men entered guilty pleas to charges stemming from a series of frozen beef and pork thefts from packing plants across the Midwest last year totaling about $9 million in losses.
Each man faces up to 10 years in prison, according to three separate plea agreements filed in federal court.
Prosecutors, however, will recommend 18- to 24-month sentences for each defendant, according to the plea agreements filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern Florida. In addition, the men will be expected to pay more than $200,000 in total restitution.
In October 2022, police arrested Yoslany Leyva Del Sol, Ledier Machin Andino and Delvis L. Fuentes, all from the Miami area. They were charged with transportation of stolen goods and money laundering.
The three men each pled guilty to one count of transportation of stolen goods, according to the agreements filed in court. The money laundering charges would be dropped if the court accepts the agreements.
All three men have been cooperating with investigators, leading prosecutors to recommend reduced sentences as part of the plea agreements.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 26 in the Miami court.
Investigators identified about 45 thefts that occurred across Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin last year.
The men operated what state and federal investigators said was a "sophisticated organized criminal enterprise," going from state to state, scoping out various packing plants and driving away with semi-tractor trailer loads of frozen meat.
Federal investigators were tipped off to the operation by the Lancaster County Sheriff's office in Lincoln, Nebraska. The sheriff's office launched an investigation into the theft of several semi-trailers and loads of frozen beef in the county on June 27, 2022.
According to the complaint filed on Oct. 21, 2022, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Homeland Security began tracking the three men's movements as they trekked across the country.
On June 26 and June 27, 2022, the Lancaster County Sheriff was notified about the two thefts of semi-tractors and trailers loaded with beef valued at nearly $500,000, stolen from a location near Emerald, Nebraska, a tiny town just west of Lincoln. The trailers were recovered but were empty.
The sheriff executed cell tower dumps of the time and locations where the thefts occurred. According to the complaint, the sheriff found a cellphone number that allegedly belongs to Fuentes, a Miami Gardens, Florida, resident.
Law enforcement discovered, according to the complaint, that Fuentes had made about 165 calls to two other numbers registered to Del Sol and Andino.
Then, on or about Sept. 16, 2022, law enforcement observed through GPS tracking a semi-tractor registered to Del Sol traveling on Interstate 80 in Lincoln.
In September and October 2022, the Lancaster County Sheriff obtained warrants to track the phones belonging to the three men. Based on that information, the complaint said, the three men left Miami, Florida, on or about Oct. 10.
The men were arrested in an Oct. 18, 2022, traffic stop in Tennessee by highway patrol. Investigators found 19 pallets of frozen pork in the truck owned by Fuentes.
Read more on DTN:
"Florida Men Arrested in Frozen Meat Thefts," https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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