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Suspect held in thefts of trucks, equipment

Authorities suspect that Luis Natal was involved in the thefts worth more than $1-million.

By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002
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TAMPA -- A little luck and two weeks of investigation led Hillsborough detectives on Monday to a man they say stole more than $1-million in tractors, trailers, forklifts and box trucks over the past 18 months.

Luis Natal, 37, likely will face a flurry of charges in coming days, ranging from grand theft to dealing in stolen property to altering vehicle identification numbers, said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder.

Investigators said that a Manatee County man whose forklift had been stolen called a local forklift dealer a couple weeks ago, asking him to keep an eye out for the stolen vehicle.

The dealer, who knew Natal, said Natal had been in the market for a forklift but recently had quit asking about it. The dealer learned that Natal had found a forklift -- the same one stolen from Manatee County, authorities said.

That led detectives to Natal's business, Natal Express Inc., at 5402 24th Ave. in Palm River, where they found a collection of stolen forklifts, trailers and trucks, most of them with the vehicle identification numbers altered.

In one truck they also found about $200,000 worth of marble, Reder said.

"He was surprised to see us," Reder said.

Investigators believe Natal has been selling stolen vehicles for at least a year and a half. Reder said detectives also found a kit that Natal used to alter the vehicle numbers.

"These vehicles came from all over Florida," said Hillsborough sheriff's Maj. Rocky Rodriguez.

State records show that Natal has no previous criminal record in Florida.

Reder said Natal listed his address as 3245 Stonebridge Trail in the River Hills community. Records show the house, assessed at $152,000, is owned by Bruno and Theresa Ziorjen of Valrico.

Natal was taken to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, where he remained late Monday for further questioning. He was expected to be booked into the county jail Monday night.

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