THONOTOSASSA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Half a million dollars' worth of tequila was stolen from a truck driver in Hillsborough County, and four men are charged with the crime.
Sheriff's deputies said a truck driver was heading from Miami to Tampa when his trailer went missing after he went into the Tampa Truck Stop for dinner off U.S. Highway 301 around 11 p.m. Sunday.
"We do know it was organized, and this had been planned because the box truck was there to meet them," said Danny Alvarez, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies arrested Vidal Estrada, Lemuel Escobar, Humberto Ramirez and Alberto Obaya for burglary and other crimes related to the liquor theft. They are accused of detaching and stealing a trailer with 966 cases of Patron tequila inside - worth $507,105 in retail value.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the truck driver went into the truck stop for dinner around 11. The owner of the convenience store told FOX 13 they close their restaurant at 5 p.m. So it's unclear how long the driver was inside before he noticed his trailer was missing.
Deputies said the driver called to report it missing around midnight.
"When he comes outside, that trailer is gone. His cab is there, but his trailer is gone," said Alvarez. "So, he calls the police, we respond. We send out aviation. We send out dogs, and we were looking."
The thieves somehow managed to get roughly 11 miles away to Ike Smith Road and McIntosh Road in Thonotosassa.
"Around 12:30 a.m., we had located the trailer being off loaded into a box truck by four individuals," Alvarez said.
By the time of their arrests, the suspects had moved 20 cases. Deputies said it was lucky the thieves stayed close by.
"Since it was right there near the highway, that truck could have easily gotten on the highway and headed north, south, east, or west and would have been out of our county in no amount of time," said Alvarez.
As for the liquor, deputies recovered it all and are figuring out where the tequila was supposed to end up.
Deputies said the truck driver hauling the tequila is working with them to answer any other questions about the crime.