A Palm Beach County resident was arrested recently in connection with a 2012 theft in Mississippi of a truckload of the cough and cold remedy Mucinex.
Roberto Valladares, 61, is the latest defendant to be arrested among almost a dozen people implicated in a string of robberies across the nation targeting commercial trucks carrying medical products, baby formula, electronics and clothing to retailers such as Walmart and Walgreens.
Members of theft rings include men who target trucks carrying large shipments of products that are later sold illegally in small community supermarkets or by phone to retailers both in the United States and abroad, according to people familiar with the cases.
For example, Raul Nick García — one of five defendants sentenced last year in connection with the Mucinex investigation — sold some of the stolen products at his small supermarket in Miami-Dade and stored pilfered pallets at his family-owned business here as well, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.
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“García was co-owner of the Tadeo Supermarket in Miami where stolen cargo was sold, and he acted as a buyer and re-seller of stolen cargo using his family business, National Pallet, in Miami, where stolen product was stored,” according to an attorney’s office statement. Tadeo Supermarket now operates under a new name at the same location.
The ring that stole the Mucinex is just one of several similar criminal groups that target commercial trucks for thefts around the country. In December 2013, for example, a group stole diabetes test strips worth $4 million from a truck in Louisville, Kentucky. In March, gunmen held up a truck carrying gold bars worth $5 million in North Carolina and then one of the bars ended up in Miami, according to authorities.
Whether the rings that stole the gold and diabetes devices are related to the Mucinex ring is not known. But the common denominator is that members of all these rings are based in South Florida — from Palm Beach down to Miami-Dade.
Palm Beach County is where Valladares, the defendant in the Mucinex case, was arrested April 3 after an FBI special agent filed a criminal complaint in federal court. In the complaint, Valladares was also listed as R.R.
“The investigation has revealed that R.R. and others are engaged in the theft of cargo and merchandise from warehouses and semi tractor trailers, and that they are actively selling stolen property from these thefts,” the complaint said.
The complaint goes on to link R.R., later identified as Valladares, to the Mucinex theft from a tractor trailer parked in Richland, Mississippi.
“On October 21, 2012, in Richland, Mississippi, a theft occurred of a tractor trailer loaded with Mucinex,” the complaint said. “The load consisted of approximately 131,000 units of Mucinex, with a retail value of $2,000,000.”
After the robbery, the Food and Drug Administration posted a web alert. The Mucinex lot numbers and expiration dates included in that notice matched the numbers and expiration date of the products found in the possession of the suspects, the complaint said.
That notice, which is still available on the web, says the targeted trailer was parked at the Capitol Fuel Center in Richland when it was robbed. The notice does not say how the robbery occurred.
Investigators identified Valladares when they arrested two other theft ring defendants, Eliesky Sánchez and Denis Esmildo Fernández Guerra, according to the complaint. It was Sánchez who gave up Valladares, according to the complaint.
“Sánchez was shown a six-person photograph line-up and he picked out R.R (whom he knew as Roberto Valladares), stating that he met R.R. several times with Denis Esmildo Fernández Guerra in Palm Beach County, Florida, and that Guerra told him that he (Guerra) and R.R. were taking a truck to California, presumably loaded with items,” the complaint said.
Two other defendants, who agreed to cooperate with investigators, provided leads that enabled FBI agents to determine that Valladares was a significant operative within the theft ring, according to the criminal complaint.
Valladares not only helped sell stolen property, but he also stored it in warehouses and storage units he rented in California, according to the complaint. When agents searched those storage units they found piles of allegedly stolen property including clothing and Mucinex, the complaint says.
Agents also obtained a search warrant for Valladares’s residence in Royal Palm Beach where they also found units of the stolen Mucinex.
The FBI did not comment on the case. Valladares’ lawyer also did not comment.
Valladares, who was awaiting trial, pleaded guilty June 5 and is scheduled to be sentenced in August. If convicted, the maximum penalty could be five years in prison, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy