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Catching Cargo Criminals

It’s a heist story worthy of Hollywood. In 2010, a ladder was stashed in the rear parking lot of an Eli Lilly warehouse in Connecticut. Later that night, a tractor-trailer arrived and the ladder was carried to the building. Men climbed atop the warehouse and cut a hole in the roof. Using ropes, they lowered themselves into the facility and disabled the alarm system. And then stole $60 million’s worth of pharmaceuticals. Employees arrived later on to find the ladder, hole, discarded tools and the alarm system beeping, as if it needed a battery.

The thieves (Amed Villa, Amaury Villa, Yosmany Nunez – also known as “El Gato” – and Alexander Marquez) have all been caught; the latter three were sentenced in 2015 but Amed Villa wasn’t sentenced until December 2016.

In April 2017, the FBI revealed more details about the case, including what it takes to catch criminals (1) – here’s our five-point summary:

  1. Believing that the thieves probably used a “follow car” in addition to the tractor-trailer, experts decided that the culprits most likely headed south, and would need to stop and rest after around 300 miles. Based on that information, the agents performed a logical investigation – locating points on maps, checking hotels, car rentals, airline reservations and cell phone tower analysis.
  2. FBI agents and analysts trained in data analysis of electronic transactions focused on the follow car and where it came from.
  3. Burglary tools were examined and the agents determined that the exact combination of gear left at the warehouse was purchased the night before at a big-box hardware store in Flushing Meadows, New York.
  4. A plastic water bottle helped break the case – DNA from the bottle matched an individual in Florida with a history of cargo theft (Amed Villa).
  5. The FBI discovered that the culprits had stashed the drugs in self-storage units in Miami, which were then put under surveillance – though the agents believed it would be six months or more before the thieves tried to fence the drugs. In the meantime, the FBI tried to tie the thieves to other open cargo theft cases and succeeded. Amed Villa was tied to further incidents of cargo theft, including $13.3 million in pharmaceuticals from the GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia in 2009.

Case(s) closed.

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  1. FBI, “Pharmaceutical Theft $60 Million Heist Largest in Connecticut History”, (2017). Available at: Last accessed April 11, 2017.
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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