Calif. men admit roles in Kan. cargo theft case

Updated at: 11/05/2013 1:05 PM
By ROXANA HEGEMAN

(AP) WICHITA, Kan. - Two California men on Tuesday admitted to taking part in an attempted theft from a Kansas slaughterhouse in which prosecutors say the would-be thieves posed as a legitimate trucking firm to try to steal beef.

Oganes Nagapetian, 53, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit interstate shipment fraud. His 50-year-old brother, Tigran Nagapetian, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony for lying to Kansas state troopers and concealing his brother’s actions. Both men are from North Hollywood, Calif.

Federal prosecutors charged the brothers in the 2011 attempted theft of packaged beef valued at $87,500 from the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb, Kan.

Prosecutors say the case exemplifies a relatively new form of identity theft. They allege the men stole the identity of a Pennsylvania freight hauler to get the contract to pick up the meat from the Kansas slaughterhouse.

"This case implicates a relatively new and bold modus operandi of theft in which the perpetrators steal the identity of a legitimate trucking company _ usually a smaller independent hauler _ to obtain freight hauling contracts," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson wrote in one court filing. "They then show up with their own tractor and trailer at the businesses wanting to ship a trailer-load of goods to a buyer, receive the load of whatever is being shipped _ then simply drive off with the goods, often worth $100,000 or more."

The indictment also alleges that a person fitting Oganes Nagapetian’s description and using the same falsified commercial driver’s license stole a truckload of almonds worth $76,000 in Caruthers, Calif.; a load of shoes worth $236,700 in Mira Loma, Calif.; and a load of electric heaters worth $65,000 in Commerce, Calif.

Although Oganes Nagapetian was not charged in those other cargo heists, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot said he can consider those other losses as "relevant conduct" when deciding his sentence. Oganes Nagapetian’s plea agreement requires him to pay restitution, but it does not specify an amount.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson told the court the government estimated losses from relevant conduct at around $240,000 related to Oganes Nagapetian. The government is not seeking restitution from Tigran Nagapetian.

Oganes Nagapetian’s attorney declined to comment after the hearing. Tigran Nagapetian’s attorney was not available after the hearing and did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Court documents say the Kansas plan was foiled after a suspicious Ohio freight broker _ who had been victimized by a similar scheme a few months earlier _ noticed discrepancies in the trucking firm’s insurance and called the FBI. At the FBI’s request, the broker awarded the hauling bid to the impostors. Law enforcement had them under surveillance when they dropped off a refrigerated truck at the Kansas slaughterhouse for loading.

Last year, carriers reported nearly 1,200 cargo thefts nationwide, about the same as the previous year, according to CargoNet, a division of Verisk Crime Analytics.

Oganes Nagapetian faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine under sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors are recommending a sentence at the low end as part of the plea deal. Tigran Nagapetian faces up to three years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors are recommending probation.

The judge, who is not bound by those recommendations, set sentencing for Jan. 27 for both men.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)