Mableton man pleads guilty to role in cargo thefts

Sometimes they hit pay dirt, taking off with crates chock-full of high-end electronics and consumer goods. Standing before a federal judge Wednesday, Johnny Raymond Smith of Mableton pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy that bought and sold more than $3 million worth of stolen cargo.

"I'm sorry this thing has happened," said Smith, who operated salvage and wholesale merchandise outlets in Mableton and Hiram. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, buying and selling stolen interstate cargo, and money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 17.

Because the metro area is a major transportation hub, it attracts cargo thieves. They typically operate at night and on weekends and target tractor-trailers and shipping containers at truck stops, rest areas and industrial complexes.

"These modern-day pirates cruise the nation's asphalt interstate corridors and parking lots, much like their predecessors who sailed the open seas for unsuspecting targets," GBI Director Vernon Keenan said.

From May 2005 through July 2009, Smith and others took cargo stolen from about two dozen rigs and containers across the Southeast, federal prosecutors said. The stolen cargo included: an $86,000 shipment of StarKist canned tuna, $64,000 worth of Wrigley's chewing gum, a $1.8 million shipment of Husqvarna and Pfaff sewing machines, a $164,000 shipment of Casio electronics and $100,000 in GT One cigarettes.

Most of the stolen cargo was bound for major retailers such as Best Buy, Lowe's, Sam's Club, Target, Wal-Mart and Office Depot, federal authorities said.

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