The Great, Ongoing California Nut Caper

Victoria Jones/PA Wire URN:29365116

In California, massive nut heists rattled the state for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, which are thought to be linked to a Russian organized-crime ring.

At 11:22 a.m. on Thursday, June 20, 2013, an orange Freightliner tractor-trailer arrived at Crain Walnut Shelling in Los Molinos, California. The truck’s driver, a man in his mid-thirties wearing a gray T-shirt, introduced himself as Alex Hernandez. He said he was from K and G Transport Services, a company contracted to take a load of Crain’s walnuts to Bulk Barn Foods Limited, a Canadian food retailer ­located 2,600 miles away in Ontario. Hernandez had arrived before the pickup had been scheduled, which initially made Crain’s logistics director suspicious. But after double-checking the paperwork that he provided, she directed employees to load 630 cartons of walnuts, worth $85,000, into Hernandez’s trailer.

In November 2015, Horizon lost a load of pistachios worth $450,000. Kirk Squire, Horizon’s grower-relations manager, said that the theft was embarrassing for the company. “You have to imagine, you’re handing someone half a million dollars.”

Boudreaux assigned half a dozen detectives to a new unit—the Nut Theft Task Force. I met most of them at a conference for nut processors in Modesto last year. The men were barrel-chested and serious, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and blousey white dress shirts. They looked as if the department had just then switched their assignment from bailing hay to organized crime.

“We think the bad guys learned that food is a great ­category,” he told me. “There’s no serial number. You can’t locate these things over the Internet. The evidence is consumed.”

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