A California man has been arrested for allegedly stealing 42,000 pounds of pistachios from a local grower, the Tulare County Sheriff's Department said this week.
When employees at Touchstone Pistachio Company in Terra Bella, California, conducted a routine audit of their inventory earlier this month, they noticed several thousand pounds of their product, nearly enough to fill a tractor-trailer, was missing.
Touchstone contacted the sheriff's agricultural crimes unit, and after investigating multiple third-party companies that interact with Touchstone and reviewing surveillance footage, the department arrested Alberto Montemayor, 34, said Sgt. John England, who leads the unit.
"Because these trucks are moving one hundred to three hundred thousand dollars worth in pistachios, there's some checks and balances, some oversight, some things are done to keep track of these commodities," England said.
Montemayor had been working for Montemayor Trucking, a family business that Touchstone Pistachio Company hired as a contractor this year, according to The New York Times.
England said nut heists are more common than some would think because nuts are relatively untraceable, especially outside of their packaging. Without a special bar code or product number associated with the nut, the average person cannot tell the difference from one to another, nor where it came from.
California comprises over 99 percent of commercial pistachio production in the U.S., and the annual net farming value of pistachios represents more than $1.6 billion of California's economy, according to American Pistachio Growers, a nonprofit trade association for California, Arizona and New Mexico.
England said the theft was significant, but his unit responded to an even bigger loss last year.
"This one was over $170,000," he said. "We had one for close to $295,000 last year."
The agricultural unit was able to recover 40,000 pounds of the stolen pistachios, which Montemayor allegedly stored inside a tractor-trailer.
Each sack of pistachios carries roughly 2,000 nuts, and each tractor-trailer can hold up to around $200,000 worth of product, according to England.
Montemayor, who could not be reached for comment, could be charged with possession of stolen property and grand theft of agricultural commodities, the sheriff's department. It was unclear whether he had an attorney.