Yearlong operation leads CHP to recover stolen goods worth millions

CHP Border Division Chief Tommie Cocroft speaks during a news conference at CHP Border Division on Friday
California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Tommie Cocroft speaks during a news conference at CHP Border Division on in San Diego on Friday to announce the results of Operation Overload. The year-long investigation targeted a cargo theft ring operating in Southern California and beyond.
(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Operation targeted sophisticated cargo theft ring; on Thursday, officers arrested 25 people and seized $5 million in merchandise


Rows of big screen TVs. Stacks of microwaves. Pallets full of merchandise.

All of it was stolen. And now all of it is in the custody of the California Highway Patrol.

The statewide policing agency announced Friday, May 5, that a yearlong investigation led to the takedown of a sophisticated cargo theft ring that operated throughout Southern California and beyond.

On Thursday, May 4, officers fanned out to serve search warrants in San Diego and several other counties up to Bakersfield, arresting 25 people and seizing $5 million in stolen goods. They also recovered seven stolen cargo trailers, several vehicles, multiple firearms, 13 gold bars and $450,000 in cash.

CHP officers based in San Diego were among the leaders of the large investigation, dubbed Operation Overload.

Capt. Charles Leonard from the agency’s Border Division said the takedown “majorly impacted” the ring.

“We believe of this particular network and Operation Overload, we got the head of the snake,” Leonard said at a news conference at the division offices in San Diego.

Members of the ring focused on ports and distribution centers, and used phony documents and identifications to look like legitimate truck hauling companies so they could get unsuspecting victims to load the cargo onto tractor-trailers. The thieves then drove off with the merchandise.

“Then it disappears, and it’s chasing a ghost,” said CHP Sgt. David Navarro, who supervises the Cargo Theft Interdiction Program in the Border Division.

He said a lot of the suspects are “well-versed in the trucking industry, so they know how to defeat a lot of the security features that are in place” to deter theft.

Investigators photograph a warehouse filled with allegedly stolen goods.
Investigators photographed a warehouse filled with allegedly stolen goods seized as part of Operation Overload.
(Courtesy of the California Highway Patrol)

Navarro said the stolen merchandise was trucked to and stored in warehouses across the state — perhaps a quarter of them were in San Diego County.

From there, the products are sold off, sometimes fenced on the black market.

CHP officials said the suspects are are responsible for thefts of more than 200 cargo loads — making off with roughly five to seven a week— at a value of $150 million. Navarro said the thieves preferred to steal electronics, but took whatever they could get.

“They don’t care what’s on the truck,” he said. “They just know its something they can sell.”

The case started with a lead in March 2022, CHP officials said. Investigators with the cargo theft and retail crime teams worked together to do more 50 operations, including deploying surveillance teams and sending in undercover officers.

Televisions recovered by CHP during Operation Overload
Televisions recovered by California Highway Patrol officers as part of Operation Overload.
(Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol. )

Over the course of that year, they arrested 15 people, recovered 15 stolen tractor trailers and seized $50 million in stolen cargo.

Although CHP officers took several suspects into custody May 4 they are still looking for several others, as well as for missing stolen goods.

CHP officials said they hope to return the stolen goods to the victims.

Officials did not release the names of any of the people they arrested. They said it was not clear as of May 5 whether state or federal prosecutors would handle the cases.