Nearly half million dollars of pistachios stolen from Tulare County nut plant

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nearly a-half million dollars in pistachios were stolen from a local plant but the Tulare based company is learning this theft could be the work of sophisticated thieves who are part of a bigger scheme.

In the Central Valley, ag theft has always been an issue but for Horizon Nut Company it's never been like this. "They had all the right documents we had no idea really that anything was out of the ordinary at all," said Scott Woodard of the Horizon Nut Company.

In November, a driver picked up 40,000 pounds of pistachios -- an entire truckload. They had falsified documents and passed the pick-up inspection. And they aren't the only ones who've been tricked by sophisticated thieves. "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 that they can get access to the loads and steal them," said Western Agricultural Processors Association President Roger Isom.

It's not the first time this type of theft has happened in California. In 2013 the Butte County Sheriff's Office told local media, an organized crime syndicate was responsible for $200,000 walnut heist. Authorities then said, they had evidence that the stolen goods were likely being sent to eastern Europe -- possibly Armenia and Russia. "It's not your local thief. It's brought in a more sophisticated crime ring," said Isom.

The FBI said many times criminal groups use the money they get from stealing cargo, to fund their criminal operations. In rare cases, they say cargo theft can even trace back to terrorism. At this point the horizon nut company doesn't know who stole their load. "The truck went south and from what we can tell it got dropped off somewhere in Southern California, but after that we lost track of it, we didn't have a tracking device," said Woodard.

It was a nearly $500,000 loss and they're ramping up security efforts to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Action News tried reaching out to the Tulare County Sheriff's Office and they couldn't talk about the investigation. But they'll be one of at least five counties who will attend a summit on Thursday, along with the FBI and hundreds of people involved in the agricultural industry, to talk about these crimes.
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