WINTERS (CBS 5) – Walnut growers are on high alert in several Northern California counties after a series of thefts.

Industry insiders believe that a sophisticated ring of crooks are responsible for taking 40,000 tons of Walnuts from farmers near Red Bluff.

“These are well planned, well though out high level thefts,” said Martin Mariani, Chief Operating Officer of the Mariani Nut Company, based in Winters.

Mariani Nuts has not been robbed, but there were thefts of at least 4 shipments at two other Northern California facilities. Red Bluff and Stockton thefts occurred when drivers arrived for scheduled pickups and presented all the right paperwork, including purchase orders, all of which turned out to be fake.

“A load of Walnuts or a load of Almonds, a load of Pecans it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Mariani.

Law enforcement officials, including the CHP said these are sophisticated criminals that won’t be caught without an extensive investigation.

“As you can imagine, it is top of the mind in the industry and we are implementing further measures to make sure it doesn’t happen any more,” said Mariani.

Among the new procedures are photography of all trucks and drivers and even fingerprinting on purchase orders.

The CHP said it’s unclear where the walnuts are going. The missing shipments were scheduled to be delivered in Texas and Florida. If the nuts cross state lines, the FBI can get involved in the investigation.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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