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Three Arrested in Yuba County Walnut Theft

OLIVEHURST -- If you look closely at some Yuba County walnut trees, there's something missing -- the actual walnut.

"A middle man, those little stands that pay cash for walnuts. You can't do that until November 1," said crime analyst Lelise Carbah with the Yuba County Sheriff's Department.

Thursday, six full days before the legal selling season, deputies say Justin Harrington, Lester Brewer and Kristin Domoe tried to squirrel away the product of someone else's hard work.

"They were booked on charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft. With ag commodities the threshold for that is $250 dollars in value, so it easily surpassed that amount," said Carbah.

After taking what didn't belong to them in Olivehurst, it's suspected the thieves went less than a mile away down Island Drive with their ill-gotten gains and got caught.

Deputies say they came out to Island Drive because someone called 911, thinking the thieves' disabled car was suspicious.

According to investigators, while the car was filled with what appeared to have come right out of the Smith Family Orchard no one inside had the proof of ownership required under the county's walnut ordinance.

It was enacted in 2014 to crack the shell on sham selling operations.

"At that time, walnut theft was almost comparable to copper theft it was so high per pound," said Carbah.

With the 2017 crop expected to be five percent short of normal yields, Chris Silva of the 114-year-old California Valley Nut Company says increased price makes it attractive for thieves to take the increased risk to steal.

"The shortage has actually raised the value quite a bit. Last year growers were seeing in the $1 - $1.05 range for walnuts. This year a grower could expect $1.35 to $1.40," said Silva.

"We just want to make sure that anyone considering taking on this little side business better think twice," said Carbah.