Warehouse Supervisor Helped Thieves Steal Retail Goods

An Upper Macungie warehouse supervisor helped steal more than $200,000 worth of baby formula and other items destined for ShopRite supermarkets, authorities say.

Berks-Lehigh Regional police said thieves paid the supervisor $5,500 to help load the products and get them past security checkpoints at Wakefern, the marketing and distribution arm for ShopRite supermarkets, at 8301 Industrial Drive.

The supervisor, Daniel C. Vertilus, 21, of 327 Springhouse Road, South Whitehall, was charged Tuesday in the thefts, which police say occurred Dec. 22, 2006, and Feb. 15 and involved more than $200,000 worth of goods.

Angelo Rodriguez, a truck driver, was charged Friday in the Feb. 15 theft. He said he was offered money by a warehouse supervisor, and Vertilus helped get him out of the distribution center with the stolen goods by getting him a pass to get past security, police say. Rodriguez then delivered $56,000 in formula to the Bronx, N.Y.

In court documents filed this week, police also name another supervisor and truck driver in the heists, and "participants yet to be named," who have not been charged.

Rodriguez, 43, of Brentwood, N.Y., was arraigned before District Judge Charles Crawford of Upper Macungie on charges of theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy, and sent to Lehigh County Prison under $75,000 bail. Vertilus also faces those charges, plus theft by deception, and is in the prison under $95,000 bail.

According to court documents:

The investigation began Jan. 23 when police were called to Wakefern on a report that pallets of baby food, ketchup, walnuts and oil were missing from the warehouse in the previous two months.

The next day, loss prevention officials and a warehouse manager met to discuss the 11 missing pallets and $160,000 in baby formula and other products taken from Nov. 27 to Dec. 26, 2006.

Warehouse officials said the items had to have been stolen using a large vehicle, possibly a tractor-trailer, because the pallets and products were too large to fit inside a conventional vehicle. They suspected several employees were involved, including a truck driver.

Three weeks later, a loss prevention official called a Berks-Lehigh police investigator to report the disappearance of six more pallets of baby formula, valued at $56,000.

More than 70 digital cameras positioned throughout the warehouse and outside in the lots captured Vertilus and Rodriguez taking the formula, police say.

During an interview with a Berks-Lehigh investigator Tuesday, Vertilus admitted his role and said two truck drivers offered him cash to take the formula.

On Dec. 22, he said, he was offered $2,500 by a truck driver who was named as a co-defendant but has not been charged. Vertilus said he agreed and had other employees, who were not named in a criminal complaint, help him and paid them.

After loading the truck, Vertilus said, he produced an unauthorized "red sticker" and a false code to help the truck driver get past guards with the goods. He met the trucker at the Wawa at Shantz Road and Route 100 in Upper Macungie, where the driver paid him in cash.

Vertilus said that on Feb. 15, Rodriguez offered him $3,000 for a similar heist. Again, Vertilus helped load the formula into the truck, along with empty pallets to make it appear nothing was inside.

Vertilus signed a vehicle pass saying the truck was carrying only 30 empty pallets, and it passed through the security checkpoint. Vertilus said he met Rodriguez at Industrial Boulevard and Route 100, where Rodriguez paid him.

Rodriguez was arrested Friday when he arrived at the distribution center and admitted his involvement in the heist. He said, however, he did not approach Vertilus, but another supervisor approached him two weeks before the heist about making "a quick buck."

He said that when he got to the distribution center Feb. 15, the supervisor asked him if he wanted to do the heist on that day, and he agreed. Rodriguez said a man loaded the baby formula in his truck, and Vertilus loaded the empty pallets. He said Vertilus told him not to worry about the guards because he would sign a pass to get him through.

Rodriguez said he met the other supervisor, and they drove to the Bronx, where they delivered six pallets of baby formula in front of a gated business yard. He said Vertilus, the other supervisor and an unidentified man unloaded his truck by hand and placed the formula in two white vans, a job that took them four hours.

Rodriguez was paid $1,500 cash, police said.

Wakefern officials and Berks-Lehigh Regional police did not return calls for comment.

Law enforcement officials in the region have said stolen baby formula is sold on the black market, used to cut drugs or passed off as an illegal drug.

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