Two men have been arrested in connection with the theft of just more than 140,000 pounds of walnuts from an Escalon, Calif., grower.
San Joaquin County Sheriff"s Office detectives arrested Pedro Becerra and Mario Ojeda Feb. 17 at Becerra"s home in Oakdale, Calif. The two are suspects in a number of thefts, including the Oct. 31 theft of trailers containing more than $400,000 worth of walnuts from GoldRiver Orchards, according to a sheriff"s office news release.
Detectives were serving a search warrant on Becerra"s house when Becerra drove up in a truck pulling a milk tanker, which was found to be stolen. Later, Ojeda drove up, also pulling a milk tanker. That tanker had not been stolen. Both men were taken into custody for the GoldRiver and other thefts.
GoldRiver"s stolen walnuts, still in their trailers, were found a week after the theft and returned to the company.
With the rising prices of walnuts and other nuts, nuts have become a bigger target for thieves in recent years, industry officials say.
In addition to thefts like the one at GoldRiver, thieves have hacked into brokers" computers and stolen IDs and other information that made them look like legitimate truckers. Using that information, they forged documents, drove trucks to nut packers, showed what looked like proper documentation and drove away with loads.
Such crimes occurred as many as six times in 2012 and at least three times in 2013.
In October, a task force made up of members of California walnut, pistachio and almond marketing boards and one shipper was created to find ways to protect the industry from theft.