$12M heist almost disrupted smartphone debut

2013-11-11T17:00:00Z 2013-11-12T14:43:12Z $12M heist almost disrupted smartphone debutJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com
November 11, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

GARY | Forget long lines and halted pre-orders – the latest smartphone was so hot it almost never made it to store shelves.

Sprint recently launched its new LG G2 smartphone, after a major shipment of the phones was nabbed in a multimillion-dollar cargo heist at a Gary truck stop, and then recovered more than 260 miles away.

Police say a thief at the Petro truck stop on Grant Street drove off with 22,500 smartphones worth $12.4 million shortly before they were slated to make their public debut.

The cellular carrier's new flagship device retails for $549.99 or $199.99 with a two-year contract. The smartphone's most novel feature is that the volume adjuster and power button were moved from the side of the handset to the back, which the manufacturer said results in a more comfortable one-handed grip and fewer drops.

A trucker had been shipping the new smartphones to Louisville, Ky., when his freight was stolen Oct. 25, Gary Police Department spokeswoman Gabrielle King said. UPS runs a distribution hub in Louisville that handles 85 percent of Sprint's consumer orders in the United States.

Police found the stolen smartphones in Louisville four days after the theft after he crashed the stolen semi-trailer truck into a utility pole, said Sgt. Rick Saint-Blancard, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police.

Louisville resident Juan Perez-Gonzales was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of an accident, receiving stolen property worth more than $10,000, and theft by unlawfully taking more than $1 million.

Despite the massive heist, Sprint launched the new LG G2 phones as scheduled last week, LG Electronics spokesman Chaz Abbott said.

The smartphones first turned up missing in Gary after an Illinois truck driver came to Indiana, parked his truck in the Petro lot, and then walked across the street to eat at the Denny's restaurant in the neighboring Love's Travel Stop, King said. He told police he preferred Denny's to the Iron Skillet diner in the Petro lot, but could not explain why he parked across the street.

The truck driver told police he was only at the restaurant a short while and returned to find his truck was gone.

King said she could not recall another instance of an entire semi-trailer truck being reported stolen.

"It's very, very rare," she said.

The FBI and the National Insurance Crime Bureau immediately got involved in the case and helped track the stolen truck to Kentucky.

Police are looking into whether the theft was planned in advance, if the thief knew what the truck's cargo was, and whether he acted alone or was part of a larger operation, Saint-Blancard said.

Perez-Gonzales bonded out of Jefferson County Jail in Louisville.

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