Miami-Dade men steal $1.3 million in seafood by posing as supermarket buyer, FHP says

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Three men from Miami-Dade County stole more than a million dollars in seafood from a Fort Lauderdale company by pretending to be a buyer for a supermarket, according to Florida authorities.

Altogether, Rene Hechevarria Echemend, 33, Ernesto Aguilera Baute, 36, and Jose Luis Batista Suarez, 40, are now facing seven counts of grand theft cargo of over $50,000 and seven counts of obtaining property over $5,000, Broward County court records show. Hechavarria Echemend was the only one remaining behind bars as of Monday afternoon, a Broward Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said.

Attorney information for Aguilera Baute and Batista Suarez wasn’t yet available. Hechavarria Echemend’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The $1.3 million food heist began in late June when a man who identified himself as Brian Gomez purchased seafood from NETUNO, a Fort Lauderdale-based food importer, on behalf of a supermarket, according to their arrest reports. Orders were placed on June 21, June 30, July 14, July 27 and July 29, Florida Highway Patrol investigators said on the report.

After each purchase order, Gomez was told to pick up the seafood loads at a warehouse in the Miami-Dade town of Medley, FHP reported. About 45 days after the first purchase, troopers say, NETUNO staffers began thinking that something was fishy after they contacted the supermarket’s corporate office and were told that Brian Gomez didn’t work for them and that the email he used was fraudulent.

FHP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence says itlearned about the illegal operation in early August and began conducting surveillance in the surroundings of the Medley warehouse. At 9:35 a.m. Aug. 4, investigators say they saw the truck and trailer used in the previous thefts backing in on one of the bay doors of the warehouse.

Aguilera Baute, a Hialeah resident, signed the order’s paperwork, troopers say, and left with Hechevarria Echemend, who lives west of Miami Gardens, in the tractor-trailer carrying the seafood load. Troopers say they followed the truck and a red Mustang that was trailing behind it to 3255 Meridian Pkwy. in the Broward city of Weston. The driver of the Mustang, investigators say, was later identified as Batista Suarez, a Hialeah resident.

Nearly 15 minutes after the truck backed into a bay door at the Weston facility, troopers approached and arrested the three men without incident, according to the report.

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The investigation revealed, FHP says, that Aguilera Baute and Hechevarria Echemend defrauded NETUNO and were also responsible for five of the six cargo thefts totaling approximately $1.3 million in seafood. Batista Suarez participated in last week’s heist totaling about $300,000 in seafood, and during these incidents all three used their cellphones to facilitate these thefts, FHP added.

An FHP spokeswoman declined to name the supermarket that the men allegedly claimed to work for, citing an open investigation. Their next court date was unknown as of Sunday afternoon.