Tulare law enforcement recently arrested a man in the Central Valley of California after he stole 42,000 pounds of processed pistachios. Employees at a Touchstone Pistachio Co., a processing plant in the San Joaquin Valley alerted the authorities about the pistachio thief after going over their inventory and realizing they were short roughly 21 tons of nuts.
A few days after the pistachios were reported missing, deputies from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office tracked down the missing nuts after reviewing video footage from the processing plants and several other outlets. Deputies discovered the cargo container carrying the nuts in Delano – on the border of Tulare and Kern counties.
Sgt. Joseph England, who leads Tulare’s Agricultural Crimes Unit, said that the nuts were valued at around $170,000 dollars.
Alberto Montemayor was subsequently apprehended on suspicion of grand theft in connection with the heist.
Investigators said that there was evidence some of the nuts had already been sold, while others were in the process of being repackaged from 2,000-pound sacks into smaller bags before selling. 40,000 pounds of the nuts were returned to Touchstone Pistachio Co.
David Alavezos, an assistant district attorney in Tulare County, said stealing nuts is a “really common crime” in the region.
Richard Matoian of the Fresno-based organization American Pistachio Growers, said that 99% of pistachios are grown in California, with 97% of that being grown in the Central Valley. The nuts are valued at $8 to $9 dollars a pound, which makes it a pretty valuable commodity and attractive to thieves.
Tulare County is no stranger to agricultural crimes in the region. According to the LA Times, the county employs a full-time investigator and prosecutor for agricultural crimes, commonly related to stealing cattle or farm equipment and machinery like tractors.
Compared to tractors or livestock, which are individually marked, nuts are much harder to track.
Sgt. England says that significant nut heists happen roughly one or two times a year.
Apparently, last year a man was arrested on suspicion of stealing roughly $295,000 dollars of pistachios.
Investigators said that thieves go about many different schemes for stealing nuts, which range in complexity from grab-and-run heists to having someone on the inside alter invoices or intentionally not report missing merchandise.
Some thieves will con farmers by paying for regular truckloads of nuts until they gain their trust, and then dash without paying after making a large order.
Sometimes, after the nuts are harvested and ready to be transported to a processing plant in the back of a trailer, a thief will hook the trailer up to their truck and drive off. Another common method for thieves is to trail behind harvesting equipment and scoop up the fallen fruits in a gunny sack.
“It’s not that much if it’s just a sack here or a sack there. But they’ll be throwing that into a truck, and it’s kind of death by a thousand cuts for a lot of farmers,” England said.
Around 5 years ago, pistachio theft peaked as hackers began obtaining information from orders on an online portal that revealed companies’ bids to distribute products. The fraudster would then show up at the facility with all of the right information to pretend to be the distributer.
Tim Ward, Tulare County’s district attorney said, “What we have seen recently is a very sophisticated kind of a white-collar crime — digital crime — that’s occurring within the industry,” he said.