California’s Nut Producers Have a Costly Problem: Organized Crime
With thefts in recent months affecting nut producers throughout the San Joaquin Valley, associations representing the industry have stepped up. In one instance, an emergency summit was convened to ensure companies don't hand their crops to the wrong people.
Sophisticated thieves have been making life pretty difficult for California’s nut industry, and that’s prompted some of the region’s trade groups to fight back.
In recent months, nut thieves in the San Joaquin Valley have hacked into websites and faked shipping documents in order to steal cashews, pistachios, and other kinds of nuts—which have suddenly become quite valuable, making them the target of organized crime. A single theft last month involved 40,000 pounds of pistachios worth nearly half a million dollars. Money from the theft of such crops is often used to fund criminal operations.
“They’ve actually hacked a DOT database, got information that they shouldn’t have, and are basically able to fool some of the people that are handling the nuts, to the point where they can get access to the loads and steal them,” Roger Isom, president of the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA), noted in comments to ABC 30 last week.
And the factory that was the victim of the theft said that the drivers knew what they were doing—and how to get the nuts out the door.
“They had a legitimate truck driver and legitimate paperwork,” Horizon Nut Co. General Manager Andrew Howe told the Fresno Bee. “We had all our security measures in place.”
Keeping Members Informed
WAPA, along with American Pistachio Growers, convened an emergency summit last week so members could discuss the situation; the event drew about 175 people, according to the Visalia Times-Delta.
Local law enforcement attending the event addressed the problem, and attendees from the insurance industry recommended using biometrics to ensure that truck drivers are who they claim to be.
“If you aren’t going to give me your fingerprint, would I give you a half million dollar load?” asked insurance investigator Sam Wadhwani.
For now, few leads on the nut thefts exist, and even fewer arrests have been made. Those at the event recommended that companies threatened by theft boost their security and educate themselves on what to do to prevent nut theft—and what not to do in their own security processes.
“Education is key. If we’re going to catch them, we need to know how they’re doing this,” Wadhwani added.
The issue evokes a similar problem, the recent increase in cattle rustling in the Western U.S. The problem is one also affecting the San Joaquin Valley.