Sheriff Terry Wagner, Lancaster County Nebraska. (photo from news conference)

Three men from Miami are under arrest, accused of stealing $9 million worth of frozen beef and pork from meatpacking plants in Iowa and five other states.

Terry Wagner, the sheriff in Lancaster County, Nebraska, said his department started “connecting the dots” after finding empty semi trailers that had been stolen from a Grand Island beef packer.

“It was surprising how brazen and how widespread it really was,” Wagner said during a news conference.

Investigators from the Lancaster County, Nebraska sheriff’s office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have identified 45 thefts so far.

“They’ve been targeted beef and pork packaging facilities in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin,” the sheriff told reporters.

It was “a highly sophisticated organized criminal enterprise” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Nebraska sheriff said in many instances it appears the men drove into an area in a semi tractor and hooked it up to a trailer that had been loaded with frozen meat.

“They knew what to look for,” he said. “They knew where to look, where trailers would be staged for transport and they would just drive in, hook up to a trailer and take off.”

The sheriff told reporters in Lincoln, Nebraska that federal investigators used electronic surveillance to track three semi tractor trailers with more than half a million dollars worth of stolen meat to Florida last Thursday.

“The investigation is still continuing,” he says. “We’re still trying to identify some of the victims of these thefts and we’ll keep working on this case.”

On September 1st, $100,000 worth of pork was stolen from the J-B-S plant in Ottumwa, but there’s been no official confirmation that case is among the 45 meat thefts identified by the Nebraska sheriff.