Grand Theft Avocado Heist Lands Three Employees In Jail
Three California workers conceived what they thought to be an ingenious plan to make some big bucks. The produce company workers, Joseph Valenzuela, 38, Carlos Chavez, 28, and Rahim Leblanc, 30, instigated a heist to hijack a whopping $300,000 worth of avocados from their employer, Mission Produce, after noting the plant in which they worked had changed its distribution flow.
Historically, customers would pick up their orders at the ripening facility where the three would help out with getting the product ready to move out the door. But, under the new distribution plan, the company began delivering pallets of the fruit to its customers, turning over inventory more quickly and allowing its customers the ease of staying at home. Some buyers, however, didn’t realize the plan had changed and continued going to the plant for their pickups. So, the company’s president, Steve Barnard, allowed for partial pallets and boxes of avocados to continue being sold at the back door of the distribution center.
The three men decided to sell each box of fruit for $20 to $30 — far below market value of $50 each, which led to a high demand. They then pocketed all cash received in their heist. But, the fury of in-person sales and bookkeeping records tipped off Barnard that something was amiss, and he decided to install security cameras to see why he needed to continue to keep his stock up. Footage of the secret sales was soon captured. “I guess they got greedy and they got bulletproof,” 64-year-old Santa Paula resident Barnard said. It is unclear exactly how much of the fruit was stolen. The total potential profit was based on estimates after reviewing the footage.
The price of the soft green fruit, which is grown in California, Mexico, New Zealand and Chile, has skyrocketed as of late due to increased popularity as both a heart healthy snack and a product known for its beauty benefits. Also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit, numerous studies have found that avocados can help to decrease the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight. Avocados are rich in healthy fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that can moisturize and improve skin so, they are included in many beauty products. “They are in demand. Everybody loves avocados,” said Sgt. John Franchi of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
The men behind the heist were charged with grand theft and are in jail on bail of $250,000 each. Authorities are calling the crime “grand theft avocado”, but Franchi said, “We take these kinds of thefts seriously. It’s a big product here and in California.” New security measures were instilled in the distribution center, and Mission Produce was able to recover the loss with insurance money. In 2015, California alone exported $25 million worth of avocados, according to the UC Davis Center for Agricultural Issues, making the fruit a key product of profit. The California Avocado Commission offers advice and maintains a hotline to protect growers from thefts.