SADDLE BROOK, NJ -- New Jersey police sniffed out an Illinois man's alleged plot to sell 21 tons of stolen Muenster cheese on the black market, Police Chief Robert Kugler said.
Cops caught up with the alleged cheese bandit on Tuesday at a New Jersey Turnpike rest area in Ridgefield, where he was found inside a parked tractor-trailer that contained the 42,000 pounds of cheese, he said.
Veniamin K. Balika, of Plainfield, Ill., had been traveling cross country with the stinky haul since allegedly obtaining it from K&K Cheese Company in Cashton, Wisc., by passing fraudulent paperwork.
A retailer in Texas that had been expecting the cheese, valued at $200,000, reported never receiving the shipment from K&K on Monday, Kugler said.
Saddle Brook Detective Sgt. Thomas Johnson caught scent of the possible cheese heist while nibbling away at an attempted truck arson within the township and initiated surveillance of the cheese-filled tractor-trailer with the help of New Jersey State Police, Kugler said.
Johnson, Detective Capt. Vincent Laurentino and the New Jersey State Police Cargo Theft Unit recovered the cheese, which had been located inside a refrigerated trailer attached to the parked tractor in Ridgefield’s Vince Lombardi rest area on Tuesday, Kugler said.
Balika, a 34-year-old Ukrainian citizen, copped to stealing the load of cheese and driving it to New Jersey in an attempt to sell it at a reduced price along the East Coast, Kugler said. He was charged with receiving stolen property and dealing in stolen property, and transported to Bergen County Jail. Sherrif's Office records show Balika was bonded out Wednesday for $25,000.
Police seized the 2005 Volvo tractor, valued at $20,000, and impounded the attached trailer and the cheese contained within it, said Kugler, who commended Johnson on making the arrest.
“Detective Sgt. Thomas Johnson is rightfully credited with the discovery and arrest by his proficient investigatory skills and intuition of suspecting something just not right," Kugler said in a statement. "His ability to network with other agencies, including the NJSP, is a true indicator and commendation of his investigative ability."
A K&K representative said that because the company could not guarantee its Muenster hadn’t been tampered with, it would not request the product back. Kugler said police are planning to donate the cheese to charity if it passes a health inspection.