My father always reminded me that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Well, that’s not exactly true.
In California’s Central Valley thieves with computer hacking skills have stolen millions of dollars of tree nuts. Yes, tree nuts — like almonds, pistachios, and cashews. These high-tech thieves hack into shipping chain databases and by changing or using the shipping information they are able to pick up nut cargo loads from unsuspecting nut growers or hijack the load, using no force at all, while the nuts are in transit.
The thieves have used different scams but they all begin by hacking into the database and either changing information or gathering information that then allows the nut thieves to divert the cargo load to their trucks. Sometimes the thieves will change contract information leading the grower to believe his contract is with a fake truck company the thieves have created. Other variations include showing up before the actual trucking company with faked but legitimate-looking papers or, assuming the identity of an official from the trucking company, contacting the legitimate trucker who is already in transit and telling the driver that the drop-off location has changed to another location where the driver then unwittingly hands his load over to the waiting thieves. It is believed that the nut thievery is run by organized crime operating out of Los Angeles.
The nut cargos are often valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and it is reported that the thieves have stolen millions of dollars worth of nuts in the past year. Apparently pistachios are a preferred target because pistachios are a high-value nut. But how do the thieves unload their load? They need to turn those nuts into cash. Well, as you can imagine, it’s rather hard to trace a nut. Authorities believe that the nuts are distributed by the criminals within 24 hours of the theft. Often the scam is not even discovered until the nuts are already on a cargo ship bound for another country. Many of the nuts are also distributed domestically to unknowing small businesses.
If you can believe it, food items have replaced electronics as the most-stolen commodity in this country. Nuts are the perfect target: they are hard to trace, have a long shelf life, and their value pound-for-pound is higher than almost any other commodity. And what’s suspicious about a truck driving down the highway with a load of nuts? It’s sure not as risky as driving down the highway with a load of drugs, for example. And besides, the cops usually would have no way of knowing that the nuts were stolen.
In 2015, there were 32 reported thefts with a total of close to 700,000 pounds of tree nuts stolen representing a loss of $4.6 million. The growers and law enforcement are trying to put a stop to these thefts by recording copies of truck driver’s licenses and even fingerprinting the truck drivers. A bill in the California Legislature, which is expected to become law, will create an agricultural cargo theft task force.
William Weinberg is an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you have any questions regarding your criminal defense matter, please feel free to contact him to set up a confidential consultation without charge at firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 474-8008.