A man who worked for a trucking contractor was charged with stealing 21 tons of nuts from a pistachio grower, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said.,

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

A California pistachio company was conducting a routine audit when it noticed something suspicious: About 42,000 pounds of pistachios — nearly enough to fill a truck trailer — were missing.

Officials of the company, Touchstone Pistachio, called the agricultural crimes unit of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Within days, after checking surveillance footage, sheriff’s deputies arrested 34-year-old Alberto Montemayor, who had been working for Montemayor Trucking, a family-owned business that the pistachio company had hired this year as a contractor, according to the authorities.

Mr. Montemayor was charged with grand theft, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Sgt. Joseph England, who leads the agricultural crimes unit, said it was not uncommon for people to steal nuts in many of California’s rural counties, where farming drives the local economies. The product isn’t easily traced, he said.

But 42,000 pounds of pistachios wasn’t something he’d seen before.

“That was pretty large,” Sergeant England said. “You don’t come across that every day.”

Touchstone Pistachio, which has its headquarters in Terra Bella, Calif., north of Bakersfield in Tulare County, declined to comment.

Mr. Montemayor declined to comment on Monday when reached by phone.

Sergeant England said he and the four investigators in the unit reviewed the surveillance cameras in the company’s facility. Afterward, they concluded Mr. Montemayor was the suspect.

While 21-ton nut thefts don’t occur often in Tulare County, it’s not unheard-of, Sergeant England said. Nuts are big business in the region, and agricultural thefts are significant enough that the sheriff’s office created its agricultural crimes unit in 1996.

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux of Tulare County told CNN in 2016 that his deputies traveled “as far as New Mexico” to find stolen products, which are often nuts.

Mae Culumber, a University of California crop adviser who specializes in nut crops, said nut commodities have a long shelf life, making them ideal for people looking to make a profit over a sustained amount of time.

“There’s a lot of opportunities there versus other things that would be more perishable,” Ms. Culumber said.

California comprises 99 percent of the total U.S. commercial pistachio production, according to American Pistachio Growers, a nonprofit trade association. Tulare’s crop report from 2019 states that the county had 74,540 acres of pistachios, compared with 147,900 in Kern County, directly south of Tulare.

When questions about the pistachios began coming up in May, Sergeant England said, Touchstone Pistachio thought a delivery was either behind schedule or misplaced.

But when the company officials completed their audit on Thursday and realized $170,760 worth of pistachios was missing, they called the agricultural crimes unit.

“In these facilities, there’s some oversight and checks and balances that’s done in order to keep track of everything,” Sergeant England said.

Every pistachio-carrying tractor-trailer holds around $200,000 worth of product, so the company “likes to keep track of everything,” he said.

When the authorities found Mr. Montemayor, Sergeant England said, they discovered that he had moved a tractor-trailer loaded with pistachios from the trucking company’s lot to another lot nearby.

Each sack of pistachios in the tractor-trailer carried roughly 2,000 nuts, and Mr. Montemayor had been moving them into smaller bags in order to resell them for profit, the Sheriff’s Office said. The authorities were able to recover 40,000 pounds of pistachios, Sergeant England said. It was unclear what had happened to the remaining 2,000 pounds, he said.

“These are high dollar loads moving from facility to facility,” Sergeant England said. “If some of those oversight steps aren’t minded, the opportunity presents itself where there is a lot of money to be made.”