A California Pistachio Heist Went Viral—but Nut Crimes Aren’t Out of the Ordinary

Amid a historic drought, pricey, hard-to-track crops are becoming hot commodities

Tulare County made national news this week when a 34-year-old trucker named Alberto Montemayor was arrested for allegedly stealing and stashing 42,000 pounds of pistachios. According to officers with the sheriff’s department’s agricultural crimes unit, Montemayor was hiding the nuts in a tractor trailer parked in a lot and repackaging them to sell; he was arrested and booked on June 18.

An investigation kicked off when a routine audit at Touchstone Pistachio Company revealed that 21 tons of crops were unaccounted for. Though Montemayor, who owns and drives for the Montemayor Trucking Company, allegedly attempted to hide his intent to resell the nuts, authorities say the stash was being divided into smaller bags, perfect packaging for sale on California’s booming agricultural black market.

Montemayor, who made bail and is currently awaiting charges, isn’t alone in his alleged pursuit of ill-gotten nuts. Though this is Tulare County’s first tree nut crime of the year, Montemayor’s alleged nut heist is the second pistachio-related heist in as many years. Nuts have become target for a few reasons: they can’t be traced, they have a relatively long shelf life, and they’re relatively pricey. According to NPR, thieves have even been known to hack into trucking companies’ computer systems to create fake load orders.

Last year, two men were arrested in Kern County for allegedly posing as drivers to pick up a nut shipment. According to a company that tracks truck thefts, $7.6 million worth of nuts went missing between 2014 and 2017.

The drought wreaking havoc across the Southwest is catalyzing capers like this. The rarer the commodity, the more expensive it is. As temperatures rise and water levels fall, water prices for farmers soar, and lucrative crops like nuts become hot commodities.

Sergeant Joseph England of the Tulare County agricultural crimes unit told CNN, “With less water and more expensive water, price increases get passed onto the consumer. This is pretty serious stuff.”

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