Six men are facing charges in connection with a series of organized cargo thefts throughout central Florida.
Five men were arrested and a warrant for the arrest of a sixth man has been issued.
One of those men, Alexander Nealy, 36, of Plant City, is a former DeSoto County sheriff's deputy and a former Titusville and Cocoa police officer. He is also a preacher at Bay City Refuge Worldwide Ministries, Inc. in Tampa.
Nealy was employed as a truck driver for SalSon Logistics, a trucking contractor for Macy's. Macy's reported they were missing thousands of dollars of merchandise, and when authorities investigated further, they busted Nealy and the other suspects, officials said.
"I am absolutely mortified that a man who pretends to be the pastor of the Word, someone who leads people in a church in this community who have faith and trust in him, is nothing more than an organized criminal," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Two other suspected drivers of SalSon Logistics, 45-year-old Toberto Barahona, of Tampa, and 27-year-old Jorge Salazar Brito, of Tampa, were arrested.
Detectives said Barahona and Brito were spotted in surveillance video moving cargo from their SalSon trailers to a large shipping container in a fenced lot in Tampa. Macy’s personnel inspected the trailers and found the tamper seals were manipulated, and numerous boxes were opened with items removed.
Investigators say the crime spree spanned from central to south Florida, and that it's unclear how long the thefts have been going on.
"Pastor Nealy is not only a pastor and a truck driver, he’s a thief and he is going to be held liable for his charges," Judd said. "And then I’m certain God will have something to say about it later on himself."
Judd said the suspects were smart, but they did some not-so-smart things, such as an incident in which Nealy called police to report a burglary inside one of the warehouses where he stored the stolen goods.
Three other suspects deputies said were involved in the crime spree and are accused of robbing Nealy's warehouses have been identified as 35-year-old Patrick Brown, of Lakeland, 36-year-old Jerome McCord, of Lakeland, and 31-year-old Timothy Waring, a transient in Lakeland and Tampa.
Deputies said Brown, McCord and Waring were selling the merchandise in Hillsborough and Polk counties.
"When Pastor Nealy discovers that his warehouse has been broken into -- you can’t make this stuff up -- he calls the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office to report a burglary and theft of his stolen property, that he stole from Macy’s and Bloomingdales," Judd said.
Detectives later learned that Nealy, McCord, Brown, and Waring worked together to stage the burglaries, and then have Nealy falsely report the burglaries to his storage units.
Detectives said they recovered more than $300,000 worth of stolen merchandise during the investigation.
Detectives said they served search warrants at storage units that belonged to Nealy and recovered hundreds of boxes of stolen Macy's merchandise. In all, they say they recovered over $300,000 worth of stolen merchandise from Macy's and Bloomingdale's. The merchandise included high-end designer purses, shoes, fragrances, and clothing.
"We go to seven stash locations and we recover $313,000 worth of stolen property," Judd said.
Nealy told deputies that he purchased the merchandise on Craigslist.
Judd said the goods would end up in flea markets or worse -- one of the suspects would trade goods for sex.
Nealy is facing charges of felony cargo theft. He was booked into the HCSO jail and released after posting bond. His criminal history includes multiple traffic offenses.
Barahona and Brita were also charged with felony cargo theft and booked into the HCSO jail. A search of Barahona’s apartment resulted in the seizure $30,000 worth of stolen merchandise. Both have been released after posting bond. Barahona has no previous arrests, and Brito’s criminal history includes traffic offenses.
McCord and Brown were booked into the Polk County Jail.
Waring was previously arrested for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, and was released after posting $1,000 bond. Detectives have obtained a warrant for his arrest for dealing in stolen property. Detectives are seeking the public’s help in locating him. He is known to frequent hotels in Polk and Hillsborough counties. If anyone has information on Waring’s whereabouts, they are urged to contact PCSO at 863-298-6200. Or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a CASH REWARD contact Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS (8477).