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VIDEO GAMES

'Rock Band' a victim of old-school piracy in heist

December 13, 2007|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

One of this year's hottest video games got hotter last weekend, when highway bandits near the City of Industry hijacked a truck carrying more than 1,000 copies of "Rock Band" and the electronic musical instruments that accompany it, authorities said Wednesday.

The robbers kidnapped the truck driver and held him at gunpoint while they unloaded the cargo. In addition to the game disc, "Rock Band" features a drum set, a guitar and a microphone so players can pretend to be performers.

"We're glad no one got hurt," said Bryce Baer, a spokesman for Electronic Arts Inc., the game's Redwood City, Calif.-based publisher. "We hope these guys end up forming a rock band in jail."

The Xbox 360 version of "Rock Band" that was stolen retails for $169, making the score worth more than $170,000.

Authorities say they don't have any suspects but believe it was an inside job because the thieves knew that the truck, which featured no obvious sign of the goods it held, was worth hijacking.

Investigating the case is the Cargo CATs, a crack team in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that was created to handle the growing theft of goods being transported in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Thieves are increasingly targeting the nearly $260 billion of goods that move through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports each year, especially targeting high-priced electronics shipped from Chinese factories.

This is what happened, according to police reports and Sgt. Rod Johnson of the Cargo CATs:

After picking up his load at a distribution facility near the Port of Long Beach on Saturday night, truck driver Nirmal Singh noticed two men in a black truck pull up beside his red 18-wheeler as he drove along the Pomona Freeway near the City of Industry. They began gesturing for him to stop and inspect his truck.

When Singh did, the men greeted him with handguns and ordered him into the back of his cab. They blindfolded him, then drove the truck around for an hour.

Once they parked, Singh sat with his eyes covered for half an hour while the thieves cleaned out his truck. They then drove to Riverside and left Singh with strict orders to not get out of his truck for at least 15 minutes while they made their escape.

Singh, a contract driver for A&N Truck Lines in Fresno, was unharmed. He told police the two thieves appeared to be Latino men between the ages of 25 and 30.

Company President Paul Sandhu said the load was on its way to a Michigan warehouse and was insured.

"Trucks and trailers do get stolen, but never in this way," he said. "This is very rare."

Although hijackings are uncommon, the pilfering of goods as they enter and leave the ports became so rampant earlier this decade that trucking and shipping companies lobbied state lawmakers to give the crime its own designation. The Legislature obliged in 2004, passing a bill that made cargo theft a crime punishable by as many as four years in prison.

"Game consoles, flat-screen TVs, computers are particularly sought after," said Johnson, who estimated that less than 5% of the goods stolen from trucks and ships are recovered. "They're easy to move and they're high-dollar."

However, he said, the "Rock Band" thieves could get life sentences if caught because of the kidnapping charges involved.

"My guess is that they already had a hiding place picked out even before they made the hijack," Johnson said. "They probably even had a buyer in mind. Those kinds of things don't sit around very long."

Authorities asked that anyone with information about the case contact the Cargo Criminal Apprehension Team at (310) 603-3137.

alex.pham@latimes.com

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