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Daring exploits of Florida ‘plane thief’ who cheated his way into nationwide theft

Airplane, flight
Flight (file)

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. – In the annals of criminal history, few stories have captured the public’s imagination as much as that of the daring “airplane thief” who ventured into theft of aviation equipment across the country.

According to the Department of Justice, Mario Mercier Hernandez, a 59-year-old resident of New Port Richey, Florida, set his sights on a lucrative criminal enterprise in 2019.

Using his ownership of two companies, JWG International and JWG Aviation, Mercier began a systematic campaign to break into aircraft in the United States, steal valuable electronic equipment, and then resell the stolen goods through various online platforms to unsuspecting buyers.

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Mercier’s criminal activities spanned numerous states, including Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina and beyond. He planned his heists meticulously, targeting airports and planes with surgical precision and ensuring he could make off with his ill-gotten gains quickly and efficiently.

From the Sunshine State to the Pacific Northwest, Mercier left a trail of stolen electronics and amassed a small fortune through his nefarious enterprise.

To add an extra layer of deception to his scheme, Mercier used his companies, which claimed to provide aid to impoverished children in Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine, as a front for his criminal activities.

This clever ruse allowed him to obscure the true nature of his business and further distance himself from the growing list of thefts.

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As Mercier’s crimes continued to escalate, law enforcement agencies across the country took notice and launched a coordinated investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with several state and local law enforcement agencies, worked tirelessly to gather the evidence and track down the elusive thief.

Mercier’s reign of theft finally came to an end on May 23, 2024, when he was apprehended while in the middle of stealing more equipment from aircraft at the Caldwell Executive Airport in Caldwell, Idaho.

This arrest marked the culmination of a years-long, multi-jurisdictional investigation involving an extensive network of law enforcement agencies.

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t Mercier’s first foray into the world of avionics theft. In 2008, he was convicted of a similar scheme to steal and resell avionics equipment in the Middle District of Florida. Despite this previous conviction, Mercier remained undeterred and continued his criminal activities, which ultimately led to his downfall.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida has now charged Mercier with five counts of interstate transportation of stolen property.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each charge.

In addition, the government is seeking forfeiture of all proceeds from his criminal enterprise.

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