Ag theft crime ring taken down in the Valley


The Kern County Sheriff's Office notified investigators that they found more than 1,000 pieces of ag equipment stolen out of Tulare County.

Lawn trimmers, sidewalk edgers and tree pruners are just a fraction of the pieces of equipment found in Southern California that were stolen out of Tulare County.

The equipment was taken from Fruit Growers Supply in Porterville, and Lawrence Tractor out of Tipton, over the last two weeks. Then on Friday, investigators got a break in the case.

Tulare County Acting Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said, "The Kern County Sheriff's Department was conducting an investigation separate from the commercial burglaries in the Hawthorne area. While they were there they recognized some property that may or may not be related to our burglary."

What they ultimately uncovered was a highly proficient crime ring, where suspects would steal hundreds of pieces of ag equipment and sell them on the street for one-third of the retail price.

Boudreaux added, "The particular people were not only selling it on the black market but they would send it to people to sell at swap meets."

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office arrested Rafael Gomez and Israel Garcia, both from Hawthorne, for the thefts.

Stihl branch manager in Visalia, Larry Blamer, says most of the tools sell for upwards of $300.00.

Blamer told Action News, "Stihl brand is not sold to any of the big box stores just independently owned family businesses throughout America and it's those independent owners that take that hit."

Stihl has a highly sophisticated serial number tracking system, that helped investigators confirm most of the 1,100 pieces of stolen equipment out of Tulare County. The tools were worth more than $300,000.00.

Blamer says most times when store owners call them about a theft, they're lucky if they see 1-percent of it returned to them.

Blamer explained, " I've been in business for 35 years and this is the biggest single find of power equipment I've seen."

The sheriff's office is still investigating the case and says there are more suspects they're looking for.

They say the crime ring is wide spread. Some of the ag equipment was stolen from as far away as Hanford, San Luis Obispo and even Ohio.

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