California trio charged over stealing S$415k worth of avocado

Police in Ventura County, California, have arrested three men for the theft of US$300,000 (S$415,260) worth of avocados from a produce firm where they worked.
Police in Ventura County, California, have arrested three men for the theft of US$300,000 (S$415,260) worth of avocados from a produce firm where they worked.PHOTO: REUTERS

Police in Ventura County, California, have arrested three men for the theft of US$300,000 (S$415,260) worth of avocados from a produce firm where they worked.

Carlos Chavez, 28, Rahim Leblanc, 30, and Joseph Valenzuela, 38, were arrested on June 14. They were employees at Mission Produce, which is one of the world's largest distributors of avocados, reported the LA Times.

In the past, customers would go directly to the facility to pick up their orders of avocado. In recent times, the company changed its policy and began to deliver the fruits directly to their customers instead.

However, some customers were unaware of the change and continued to go to the facility to pick up their orders.

The trio, who had been working at the company for several years, came up with a plan to steal and sell the company's avocados to unsuspecting customers at the back door of the facility.

While a box of avocados typically sells for US$50, Mission Produce's president Steve Barnard said the men were selling the fruits for US$20-$30.

Barnard said that he was tipped off by customers that "something was amiss", and by the company's bookkeepers who realised that their numbers had not been adding up.

The humble avocado has been making headlines recently after it sparked a debate over the spending habits of young people.

In May 2017, avocado prices hit a record high due to reduced harvests. The authorities speculate that this increase in popularity may have led the trio to commit the thefts.

Speaking to the LA Times, Sergeant John Franchi of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said of the green fruit: "They are in demand. Everybody loves avocados."

"We take these kinds of thefts seriously, it's a big product here," he added.