BY JASON KOTOWSKI CALIFORNIAN STAFF WRITER email@example.com
Francisco Javier Lopez Martinez admitted he was a little suspicious of the delivery job he was offered Oct. 9.
Martinez said he was paid $180 and told to pick up 43,000 pounds of almonds from the Sunny Gem facility in Wasco and drive them to a location on 46th Street in Los Angeles. His orders were to park the truck at the location and just walk away.
It may be contagious
And just when it seemed things couldn't get nuttier.
Deputies said late Monday they foiled another plot to pilfer Kern County almonds, this time from the Mandelin Inc. almond processing facility in Wasco. Deputies received a call from the facility Friday regarding a suspicious semi-truck and trailer at the facility to pick up a load of almonds worth $150,000.
The employees said they'd received an email regarding an attempted almond theft two nights earlier involving the same truck.
Deputies found the truck had fake license plates, company name and logo. They arrested Gerardo Trevino and Peter Devote on suspicion of attempted grand theft, conspiracy and use of false license plates.
That seemed strange, as did the fake driver's license he was given for the job. He asked why he needed the fake license. In answer, he was asked if he wanted the job or not.
Martinez later told deputies he was unemployed so, despite his misgivings, he took the job. That's how he landed in Lerdo Jail charged with six felonies, including attempted grand theft.
Redacted investigators' reports that became available Monday say Martinez was hired as a driver for a fake trucking company. The truck he drove to Sunny Gem on Oct. 10 to pick up the $100,000 load of almonds had a stolen license plate.
Deputies found that the trucking company's logo was affixed to the sides of the truck with clear packing tape, the reports say. They removed the tape and found "Lopez Produce" painted on the doors.
The fake license had been issued to an Asian woman, according to investigators. Martinez was also in possession of falsified immigration papers.
Martinez, 32, told investigators the immigration papers were his fault; he bought them in Alameda seven years ago. But he said he wasn't to blame for anything else.
Martinez is being held on $230,000 bail, with his next court hearing scheduled for Thursday. The redacted reports didn't include the names of others involved in the scheme, and court records didn't indicate anyone else had been arrested.
Deputies were alerted Oct. 9 by an employee of Inland Container Express, the company that sent out bids online for a trucking company to drive the almonds from Sunny Gem to a facility in Tarboro, N.C. The employee was suspicious that he'd been contacted by a fake trucking company because all the information regarding the company and its insurance were emailed from Yahoo or Gmail accounts, and all the contact numbers were for cell phones.
The employee told investigators he called one of the numbers and talked to a "younger sounding male" who was unable to provide the necessary insurance information. The employee managed to find the actual trucking company's insurance provider, and the insurance numbers didn't match the numbers he'd been given over the phone.
Deputies asked the Inland Container Express employee to set up the pickup. Deputies detained Martinez after he arrived at the Sunny Gem facility.
Martinez said he'd done a couple other runs for the same person. He told investigators there was at least one earlier one that was also suspicious.
In that instance, Martinez was told to pick up a load of produce. When he looked inside the truck he'd be driving, he found it was loaded with televisions instead.