This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
TheStreet Open House

Nutty Heists in California

A transportation broker tipped sheriff's deputies that something seemed amiss. They arrested Martinez, who told them he was supposed to drive the load to a specified address in Los Angeles, park it and walk away.

The trucking firm that hired him turned out to be a fake. The company's logo was merely taped onto the side of the truck, and it had stolen license plates. Martinez pleaded guilty in December to commercial burglary and possession of fake identification. He was sentenced to 350 days in jail and three years of probation.

Authorities say this type of industrial identity theft, known as a "fictitious pickup," is becoming more sophisticated. It often involves con artists providing fabricated insurance documents and U.S. Department of Transportation numbers for trucks.

The driver presents the paperwork to the unsuspecting nut processor.

A walnut farmer suspected he had fallen victim to such a crime in March after a $250,000 load left his yard, so he called Detectives Pat McNelis and Matt Calkins at the Butte County sheriff's department. The detectives traced phone records to Los Angeles, where police there served search warrants and seized evidence. The investigation continues, detectives said.

"In our case, there's multiple levels of people that were involved in a complex crime," Calkins said. "This is an organized criminal enterprise. It's not one or two people acting on their own."

The California Highway Patrol investigates cargo thefts, but doesn't tally nut thefts separately. The CHP hasn't established a link between such thefts and any specific criminal organization, spokeswoman Erin Komatsubara said.

Growers and nut processors say they have been so hard hit in the past year that a coalition of nut associations formed a task force in October to seek the advice of law enforcement and to create an eight-step checklist for growers and nut processors.

The list includes fingerprinting drivers, taking their photos and calling the broker to confirm that the paperwork is legitimate. Such common-sense steps can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in vanishing cargo, said Carl Eidsath, a task force member representing the California Walnut Board.

Too often, Eidsath said, the theft isn't detected until it's too late. "The only reason they knew something wasn't right was when the load didn't show up at the customer," he said. "That's days and days later."

Taking additional safeguards, almond grower Michael Fondse, the fourth generation at Fondse Brothers behind his father, Kevin Fondse, said he planted a row of redwood trees along the road to create a visual barrier, hiding his orchards from would-be thieves, and he installed cameras at the processing plant.

"We've installed a lot of lights," he said. "That's the No. 1 deterrent, keeping everything bright."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
2 of 2

Select the service that is right for you!

COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!
DOW 17,279.74 +13.75 0.08%
S&P 500 2,010.40 -0.96 -0.05%
NASDAQ 4,579.7870 -13.6380 -0.30%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from Bankrate.com

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs