California man arrested in 42,000-pound pistachio heist as thieves target $5.2bn industry

It was the second “major bust” by the Tulare Sherriff's Office in the past year

Justin Vallejo
New York
Monday 21 June 2021 17:59
<p>Tulare County Sheriff’s Office recover stolen pistachio nuts in an August 2020 raid in California</p>

Tulare County Sheriff’s Office recover stolen pistachio nuts in an August 2020 raid in California

A 42,000-pound hole in a pile of pistachios led to the arrest of a trucking company driver who was allegedly peeling off 2,000-pound sacks of nuts to sell on the $5.2bn industry’s black market.

The delicious yet illicit heist of pistacia vera, of the cashew family, was discovered by a routine audit in June by the Touchstone Pistachio Company, according to the Tulare County Sherrif’s Office.

With 21 tons of product vanishing, the company contacted the sheriff’s agricultural crimes unit to investigate what is the latest theft in an industry-wide racket plaguing the nut-producing regions of California.

Detectives from Fresno and Kern County allegedly found truckloads of pistachios moved a lot in Delano belonging to Montemayor Trucking company to a nearby lot on Saturday, 17 June, where the nuts were being moved from the 2,000-pound sacks into smaller bags for resale.

Alberto Montemayor, 34, was arrested in connection to the stolen nuts, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

It was the second "major bust" by the Tulare Sherrif’s Office in the past year, with more than $350,000 in allegedly stolen pistachios and trailers recovered in an August 2020 raid at "Setton Pistachio" in Terra Bella.

"When they arrived, Detectives learned the suspects stole the identity of a legitimate trucking company. They then used that company’s name to secure contracts for the delivery of two tractor-trailer loads of pistachios, worth more than $294,000," the sheriff’s office said in a statement at the time of the arrest.

"Instead of delivering the product, the suspects took the pistachios to an abandoned property in Selma, where they removed the packaging. They then sold the product to an unsuspecting buyer in Madera County."

Detectives arrested a 23-year-old in what they called an “elaborate scheme” using a semi-truck and two allegedly stolen trailers, which happened to be equipped with real-time GPS and led investigators to the stolen pistachios.

Between 2014 and 2017, the nut jobs resulted in the loss of more than $7.6m from the Central California industry. In 2020, that industry generated $5.2bn and more than 47,000 jobs, as noted by The Washington Post’s definitive account of the state’s illegal nut trade.

While neither the Sherriff’s office nor the Touchstone Pistachio Company immediately responded to requests for comment, investigators said in a statement that Mr Montemayor was booked in Tulare County and the recovered pistachios returned to the nut company.