One man is facing criminal charges in New Jersey after detectives found a truck he was driving with roughly $200,000 worth of stolen Muenster cheese from Wisconsin.
Veniamin Konstantinovich Balika, 34, of Plainfield, Ill., was arrested at the Vince Lombardi Service Area off the New Jersey Turnpike. New Jersey State Police Detective 1 Oliver Sissman said he allegedly provided false paperwork to the distributor of K&K Cheese in Cashton last week to get the 42,000 pounds of cheese loaded onto his 18-wheel truck. The food was supposed to go to Texas before the New Jersey State Police Cargo Theft unit intercepted it thousands of miles away.
"This is the first time this has ever happened to us," said Kevin Everhart, the general manager of K & K, which operates under the Old Country Cheese Factory label. "The trucking company we contract with will take care of the money we lost, but it's still a shame. Still sad that this happened."
The Monroe County company processes 120,000 pounds of fresh milk every day from more than 200 Amish milk producers in the area. It ships Amish cheese and gift boxes all over the country.
Everhart said the company could not guarantee the cheese had not been tampered with, so it did not ask for its product back. New Jersey health authorities will inspect it and if it's found to be safe, it will be donated to charity.
New Jersey authorities say Balika was preparing to sell the cheese for well under market value to retailers on the east coast.
"There's a black market for everything," said Sissman. "We've seen everything stolen. We've found stolen beer, stolen food, stolen machine parts, but this is the first time, we've found stolen cheese.
"When I looked inside and saw stolen cheese, I thought, of course it's from Wisconsin," said Sissman.