In late January 2015, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Major Theft Unit was requested to assist the Jefferson Police Department (Jackson County) with an investigation of two incidents of cargo theft from a Reckitt-Benckiser distribution center adjacent to Interstate 85. Agents learned that two trailers of products, which consisted of food items, household cleaning products and over-the-counter medications and vitamin supplements, with a combined value of nearly $1 Million had been taken from the facility.
Agents conducted an investigation that spanned four months and crossed several counties, and even state, lines. Agents subsequently recovered a significant quantity of the stolen products and arrested two subjects, identified as Russell Scott Tittle and Veronica Jannell Howard, with the assistance of multiple local law enforcement agencies.
Howard pled guilty to charges brought against her by Agents and was sentenced to two years in confinement followed by eight years on probation for her role in assisting Tittle in carrying out the thefts. Tittle requested a jury trial and became the first defendant to be tried for Cargo Theft since the statute took effect in July 2014. The case was prepared for trial by Assistant District Attorney Andy Crawford of the Office of the District Attorney, Piedmont Judicial Circuit. At the conclusion of a three and a half day jury selection and trial in February 2017, a Jackson County jury found Tittle guilty of four counts of Cargo Theft.
In May 2017, following a court ordered pre-sentence investigation, Tittle again appeared in court for sentencing and was sentenced by the court to serve ten (10) years in confinement followed by ten (10) years on probation and to pay two hundred twenty thousand dollars ($220,000) in fines. At sentencing, ADA Crawford argued that cargo theft has long been a significant problem in Georgia and has a very real impact on our state and our nation. ADA Crawford further emphasized the significant industrial growth in Jackson County along Interstate 85 and pointed out that law enforcement and the courts must be aggressive in the prosecution of such crimes to deter future crime and protect the companies settling in Jackson County, and the positive impact that growth has on the people of Jackson County.
“The GBI Major Theft Unit conducted an excellent investigation, making Tittle’s guilt obvious to the jury. Tittle’s sentence will serve as a warning that cargo theft will not be tolerated in Georgia,” Crawford said.
The GBI Major Theft Unit is a state-wide cargo theft task force formed in 2009 at the direction of then-Governor Sonny Perdue to combat the rising trends in commercial cargo theft. Agents within the unit have specialized training in the commercial transportation industry and cargo theft. The unit is one of few in the nation that focus on the problem of cargo theft and routinely works in cooperation with other tasks forces to further criminal investigations.
This case is an example of the efforts between the Major Theft Unit, prosecutors and the victim company having a significant impact to reduce on-going cargo theft. In 2016, Georgia saw a reduction of more than 60% in cargo theft incidents reported, due in large part to the diligent work of Agents of the Major Theft Unit and more aggressive prosecution of violators in the courts. The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office has set the bar high and has made it clear that the businesses and people of Jackson County will not quietly be victimized.