ELK RUN HEIGHTS, Iowa --- Sheriff's deputies have a fresh lead in the case of a stolen truckload of margarine.
Authorities have recovered the semi trailer in another state, but the margarine remains missing, and the thieves are still at large.
And investigators said the theft is just the buttery tip of the iceberg. Similar thefts have claimed other household merchandise.
"We have no idea who's taking these trailers. This is the fourth one that we've had taken from out in that area," said Capt. Rick Abben with the Black Hawk Sheriff's Office.
The margarine, worth $50,000, was headed for the Target Distribution Center in Cedar Falls. It was dropped off at an Elk Run Heights facility until its scheduled arrival time at in Cedar Falls.
The trailer was stolen Dec. 10.
On Thursday, the trailer was discovered more than 500 miles away in a restaurant parking lot off of Interstate 96 in Fowlerville, Mich.
Prior cargo thefts have included a trailer loaded with beef jerky. The trailer was found in Dubuque. There was also a load of dog food where the trailer was recovered in Michigan and a shipment of dental hygiene products that is still missing.
"Des Moines is getting hit hard with this type of stuff, too," Abben said. "We don't know if it's a local thing or a nationwide thing. Nationwide it's a real problem, costing millions and millions of dollars."
The National Insurance Crime Bureau, an Illinois-based non-profit organization, reports there were 747 reports of cargo theft in 2010 across the United States. In all about $171 million worth of goods were taken from trucks, trains and airplanes, according to the NICB's report, which was released in May. The report lists only two reported cargo thefts in Iowa in 2010, and those were located in the Quad City area.
NICB calls cargo theft a "low-risk crime with high-profit potential."
Nationally, truck stops, parking lots, warehouses and port cities were the most common crime scenes, the report states. Groups associated with organized crime look for trailers with electronics, sporting goods and prescription drugs. The merchandise is sold on the black market or through online auctions.