(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 11)  A thief who drove off with a truckload of tangerines has law enforcement officers and the grower-shipper scratching their heads.

UPDATED: Thief steals load of Florida tangerinesFlorida law enforcement officers are searching for a man who stole a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of sunburst tangerines from the Lake Hamilton, Fla.-based Florida Classic Growers, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

Bobby Bawcum, Florida Classic’s president, said a truck and driver in mid-December arrived to pick up the load of tangerines valued at $18,000. The driver possessed the appropriate paperwork and pickup numbers, he said.

The customer, a Wyoming retailer, later called inquiring what happened to the load.

Bawcum said Florida Classic contacted the broker to learn what was going on and they told Florida Classic they couldn’t locate the truck either. The broker, which Bawcum declined to name, reported the case to the Polk County sheriff’s office. Bawcum said the truck broker’s insurance is covering the lost load.

“This is the only incident like this that I can remember happening since I started in this business in 1974,” Bawcum said. “What bothered us the most is the customer didn’t get the product they needed in a timely fashion. We’re looking at our procedures and how we do everything, trying to see if there’s anything we can do to keep this from happening in the future.

“But when a driver shows up with the right information, it’s hard to prevent such a thing from happening.”

Bawcum said it’s even harder to prevent such incidents during the busiest time of the year, when up to 80 trucks are loaded each day.

The suspect is described as a white male with brown hair and a mustache. His truck is a tan Freightliner with brown lines.

In March, a phony trucking company hijacked more than a half dozen loads of tomatoes and cucumbers from Miami, Palmetto, Fla., and Punta Gorda, Fla.