Earlier this year, several things went missing from cargo trucks in Philadelphia. Six refrigerators. Sixty cases of Jose Cuervo tequila. And then, somehow, more than two million dimes, worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
The four thieves who federal prosecutors say were behind the robberies didn’t use the most sophisticated tactics. Among other missteps, they texted each other about their exploits and cashed thousands of dimes through Coinstar machines after prying them out of a truck with tire irons.
Four men now face several criminal charges, including theft of government money and robbery interfering with instate commerce, according to court documents unsealed last week. They could face dozens of years in prison if they are convicted.
The defendants have “developed into a bona fide cargo theft and robbery crew” that used multiple vehicles to break into cargo trailers across the city this spring, federal prosecutors said in a court filing on Monday. In addition to refrigerators, tequila and dimes, they also stole — and in some cases tried to resell — televisions and frozen meat, shrimp and crab legs.
Jeremy Isard, a public defender representing one of the defendants, Rakiem Savage, did not respond to a message seeking comment on the case. Carina Laguzzi, the attorney for Ronald Byrd, declined to comment.
Arnold Joseph, the attorney for Malik Palmer, said his client “disputes the charges and is prepared to mount a defense.”
An attorney for Haneef Palmer was not listed as of Tuesday morning.
Prosecutors pieced the robberies together using surveillance footage, phone records and messages between the defendants. That work was relatively straightforward in part because some of the thefts involved the same two vehicles: a Dodge Ram that had been rented by Mr. Savage’s father and a white box truck that Mr. Byrd purchased in March.
After buying that truck, Mr. Byrd sent a contact with Mr. Savage’s phone number a video of it with the message “Changing the truck game.”
“Spent some money on me for a change,” a block of text in the video said, according to a screenshot included in a court document.
In March, a witness saw a Dodge Ram at a scene where two men stole the 60 cases of tequila. In early April, police officers saw the same vehicle fleeing from a tractor-trailer where frozen meat had been strewn.
The Ram and Mr. Byrd’s white truck were also used for the robbery in early April of refrigerators from another truck at a depot, court documents show. When that truck’s driver tried to intervene, two of the six people participating in the robbery assaulted him and pushed him under a trailer bed.
And on the morning of April 13, Mr. Byrd’s white truck allegedly figured in the crew’s biggest caper of all: the heist of more than two million dimes from a tractor-trailer that had been left unattended in a Walmart parking lot.
The truck had departed from the United States Mint in Philadelphia hours earlier carrying more than $750,000 worth of new dimes that were destined for distribution in Florida. Its driver had gone to sleep at his home elsewhere in the city.
Using tire irons to pry open the truck, and trash cans to transport coins, the thieves made off with about $234,474.80 in dimes, court documents show. That was less than a third of the total cargo, but the haul weighed over 11,000 pounds — about as much as two empty shipping containers.
The next day, thousands of dimes were found scattered across the ground in the Walmart parking lot.
The defendants later shared a link with each other to an online “money weight calculator,” and one of them, Malik Palmer, allegedly cashed thousands of dollars worth of dimes at banks in Pennsylvania. An unidentified person also sent Mr. Byrd receipts showing that thousands of dimes had been cashed at Coinstar machines in supermarkets near Baltimore.
The largest receipt included in court filings — for $990.44, minus processing fees — was from 9,904 dimes. Plus four pennies.
Rebecca Carballo contributed reporting.