(NaturalNews) For all its political and social quirks, one good thing that can be said about California is that the state boasts a booming agricultural industry. That said, the billions of dollars generated by California farming each year has drawn the attention of international crime rings who are targeting some of the most lucrative crops.
As reported by The Associated Press, these rings are concentrating especially on high-value nuts, stealing truckloads at a time, and causing police and the hauling companies being victimized by the thefts to boost efforts to break up the crime spree which has cost growers millions.
The highly sophisticated theft rings are, in many cases, utilizing high-tech tactics such as hacking into trucking companies in order to steal identities. That enables their operatives to arrive with false shipping papers while they pose as legitimate truckers, thereby allowing them to simply drive off with loads of nuts including walnuts, pistachios and almonds valued at between $150,000 and $500,000 each.
It’s only some days later, when shipments don’t arrive at their intended destinations, that growers, trucking companies and authorities realize that the nuts are likely already in another state or on a ship bound for Europe or Asia, where they will command top dollar on black markets, police say.
‘This kind of loss hurts’
In fact, as their value climbed, theft of nuts peaked in California last year, with losses totaling around $4.6 million from just 31 reported incidents – more than the combined thefts of the three previous years, according to data from CargoNet, a group of shipping companies and law enforcement agencies allied to prevent losses.
As The Associated Press reported further:
Losses for all four years combined reached nearly $7.6 million, the group said. “It’s made my life miserable,” said Todd Crosswell, general manager of Caro Nut Co. Caro was victimized six times last year for a total loss of $1.2 million. In each case, thieves stole cashews imported from Vietnam and Africa that were roasted, salted and packaged in Fresno.
“You get hit with that kind of loss — it hurts,” Crosswell told the AP.
The value of nuts grown in California, the nation’s leading agricultural producer, has climbed dramatically in recent years, due to rising global demand for healthy snacks in places like China and other emerging economies. Agriculture in China, as reported by NaturalNews, has a history of being tainted and toxic, so it is only natural that Chinese with means would prefer organic and other healthy food from the U.S. and elsewhere.
In total, California grows more almonds, pistachios and walnuts than any other state, with a combined value of $9.3 billion in 2014. All by themselves, almonds were valued at $5.9 billion, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data cited by The AP.
Dan Bryant, supervisory special agent for violent and organized crime programs at the FBI’s Sacramento office, told the news wire service that the nuts’ high value has garnered the attention of criminal enterprises who have begun to exploit weaknesses in the cargo shipping industry to attain massive profits.
When asked, Bryant would not ID any organizations currently under suspicion, due to ongoing criminal investigations.
But he did say, “It’s not just some teenage kids ripping off nuts. These are sophisticated people.”
In addition to federal authorities, local police are also involved, as is the state government. One state lawmaker has introduced a measure that would fund a statewide task force that targets all types of cargo theft. Also, law enforcement officials and nut growers met recently to forge a strategy to prevent more thefts.
Due to the dramatic rise of nut thefts, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux tripled his agricultural crimes unit from two to six detectives last year. The AP notes that in 2013 Boudreaux’s office investigated one pistachio theft valued at $189,000. While no cases were reported in 2014, the following year his department recorded the loss of six shipments of almonds and pistachios worth a combined $1.6 million.
One load was tracked to Los Angeles, and one arrest was made. Officials would not provide the suspect’s name to The AP, only that he had “overseas connections.”