A trio of men in Ventura County, California, working for Mission Produce who allegedly stole and sold $300K of avocados were arrested last Wednesday. The sheriff’s office launched an investigation into the theft of the avocados in May and that eventually led to the arrest of the three suspects on Wednesday, June 14.
The New York Daily News reported that the three men, Rahim Leblanc, 30, Carlos Chavez, 28, and Joseph Valenzuela, 38, had worked at a Mission Produce ripening plant in California. Avocados are in high demand, with a box of them retailing for $50 each, according to the president of Mission Produce, President Steve Barnard. The trio allegedly skimmed avocados from shipments and sold boxes of them out of the back doors of the facility.
Sgt. John Franchi with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office stated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the police take the theft of produce like avocados seriously. He said avocados were “a big product.” According to the New York Times, the humble pebbley-skinned fruit is, indeed, a big product, with the Los Angeles Times reporting that in 2015, California avocado exports totaled $25 million.
The arrest warrant stated that the customers who bought avocados from the trio of suspects might not have known that their purchases were illegal. They might have thought, according to the report, that “they were paying Mission Produce for the fruit.”
Mission Produce President Barnard noticed that the books just were not adding up. Also, some of the customers mentioned they thought the prices they were paying for avocados did not seem to be correct. When the company checked its security cameras, they discovered that the three suspects were selling the avocados they stole and pocketing the cash.
Sgt. Franchi said in the interview with the Los Angeles Times that it had been the past practice at Mission Produce for customers to pick up the avocados they purchased directly from Mission Produce. Not long ago, Franchi said that Mission Produce stopped that practice and began delivering avocados directly to their customers.
ABC News reported that each of the three men charged with stealing the avocados are currently in jail. They are being held on bail of $250,000 each.
The police began to investigate the theft of the avocados after receiving a tip that the trio of men were selling avocados for cash and had not been authorized to conduct such sales by the Mission Produce company. The ripening facility is located in Oxnard, California.
NBC Bay Area reported that after police found evidence confirming that the trio of suspects were selling the stolen fruit out the back doors “at Mission Produce’s Dufau Road facility,” detectives in Ventura County served multiple warrants and placed the three men under arrest. Sgt. Franchi stated it looked like the suspects had “skimmed” the avocados “off the top” and then sold them separately to customers.
Last Wednesday, a trio of suspects was arrested for having illegally sold avocados for Mission Produce, in Oxnard, California, and pocketing $300,000 in cash between the three of them. Sgt. Franchi said the three suspects were charged with having committed grand theft, but he said that “the charges against them could change.” He said that the investigation into the stolen avocados is an ongoing one. Anyone who bought avocados from Mission Produce within the past couple of months is requested to phone Det. David Boynton at the Venture County Sheriff’s Office at 805-388-5100.
By John Samuels