Trucker disappears with $400,000 worth of crab
A truck carrying 25,000 pounds of Russian king crab from L.A. to Seattle has vanished. The trucker's documents, as well as his trucking company, appear to have been bogus, fashioned by a well-organized fraud ring.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Last week, a trucker pulled his rig up to a cold-storage warehouse in Los Angeles and picked up a load of Russian king crab that was headed to Seattle. The trucker was supposed to deliver his load on Monday.
Instead, he's disappeared — along with some 25,000 pounds of king crab that could wholesale for more than $400,000.
The trucker's documents and his trucking company appear to have been bogus, fashioned by a well-organized fraud ring.
"We had an insurance guy tell us that guys who did this were just plain professionals to make a full load of crab disappear," said Jerry Benzel, a dispatcher for New Sound Transportation, a Western Washington company that contracted with the truck driver to deliver the shipment.
Benzel said the trucker's insurance, driver's license and other documents initially appeared to be legitimate.
The trucker left L.A. on Friday, May 20.
But the last anyone heard from him was on Monday, when he reported, supposedly from Oregon, mechanical difficulties with his rig. When the load failed to show up in Seattle, New Sound investigated the driver and his documents and uncovered the fraud, according to Benzel.
"No one knows where it went. Did it go south, north, east?" said Andrew Feoktistov, whose company, Vitan Enterprises, owned the king crab.
Such heists of valuable seafood have happened before.
"This is not uncommon," said Ben Kozloff, co-owner of International Seafoods Venture in Seattle, which expected to receive the shipment and then buy the crab.
Kozloff said more than a decade ago, someone hijacked a load of shrimp at gunpoint between the dock and delivery to a cold-storage facility.
Someone also stole lobster tails, some of which were eventually tracked to a Midwest restaurant that had a false wall in the freezer for hiding the stolen seafood.
The crab theft was first reported by Seafood.com News in its online daily newsletter. The newsletter published the lot numbers of the stolen crab in an attempt to alert potential buyers.
King crab prices this year have reached a record high, so this was a tempting load. If it were repackaged into new boxes, it would be nearly impossible to trace, according to John Sackton, editor of Seafood.com News.
The thief picked up the product from Los Angeles Cold Storage Company, which on Friday released a statement noting that it was cooperating with authorities in their investigation.
It is unclear whether the trucker who stole the load knew in advance about the valuable contents of his haul. New Sound Transportation, when it seeks truck contractors, posts notices that detail where things need to be shipped and the dates of delivery, but it does not disclose the contents of the cargo, according to Benzel.
Feoktistov said he has used New Sound to transport other seafood cargo without any problems. "This sounds like 'Miami Vice' or something," Feoktistov said. "It caught us by surprise."
Feoktistov asks that anyone with information about the stolen crab contact his company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or email@example.com
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