Mableton man pleads guilty to regional cargo theft ring

John Raymond "Johnny Ray" Smith, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of buying, receiving, and possessing goods stolen from an interstate cargo shipment, and one count of money laundering for arranging the thefts of more than $3 million in cargo over four years. He sold the merchandise from his retail businesses.

Stolen items ranged from brand name TVs and computers and cigarettes to sewing machines, tuna, baby clothes and chewing gum.

GBI and IRS agents are still working to track down other members of the criminal organization, authorities said.

“Cargo theft is an under-reported criminal phenomenon that has disastrous cascading economic consequences to Georgians," GBI director Vernon Kennan said. "This annual estimated five billion dollar criminal activity negatively impacts transportation providers, retailers and consumers through higher shipping, insurance premiums and retail costs."

According to court records, from May 2004 to July 2009, Smith operated "Smith Sales Company" out of warehouses in Mableton and Hiram. He, along with others, conspired to buy goods stolen from nearly two dozen interstate tractor trailer and container shipments across the Southeast.

Shipments coming from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina bound for big-box stores, such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Lowe's and Target, were robbed from trucks parked overnight at motels, rest areas, truck stops and storage facilities, authorities said.

Smith faces up to 25 in federal prison and a fine of as much as $750,000, and will be sentenced on Aug. 17.

Investigators, however, continue to look for co-conspirators in this ring, authorities said.

"Consumers who buy these products should suspect they are stolen if they seem to be first-quality, name-brand products at unrealistically low prices,” U.S. attorney Sally Quillian Yates said.

The GBI is asking anyone with information about semi-trailer trucks being unloaded at rest stops, truck stops, industrial areas or residential areas, particularly at night or on weekends, and believe such off-loading may be suspicious, to call the GBI’s Major Theft Unit at 404-244-2600.

Consumers who buy these products should suspect they are stolen if they seem to be first-quality, name-brand products at unrealistically low prices.”

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