Tulare County Sheriff’s Department held a press a press conference on November 20 to announce that it had broken up a dairy crime ring. The ring is responsible for multiple thefts from dairies in Tulare, Tipton and Hanford over the course of months or maybe a year.
“If you are stealing livestock in Tulare County we will put every resource available to make sure you are put behind bars,” announced Tulare County Sheriff Boudreaux.
The sheriff’s department responded to the rise in agricultural crimes by increasing their Ag Crimes Unit to six detectives and one sergeant.
The unit conducted a six-week investigation from October 1 through November 17 into ongoing thefts of powdered milk and feed supplements for dairy calves. One victim contacted the Ag Crimes Unit to advise several bags of powdered milk had been stolen from inside a milk barn.
Ag Crimes Unit detectives began utilizing equipment to identify and catch the suspects. During the next several weeks, the suspects returned multiple times, stealing several bags each trip. The total loss was $15,000 worth of mainly powdered milk and some additional feed supplements.
Detectives used innovative investigation techniques and equipment to identify the suspects who were very familiar with the layout of the dairy and knowledgeable in how to avoid detection. The sergeant could not disclose their investigative techniques but did say it utilized the sheriff department’s plane.
After a two-week surveillance on the dairy, a suspect was caught in the act of stealing bags of powdered milk. The suspect, Juan Berra, was taken into custody on November 17. Detectives returned to his residence and served a search warrant for the stolen property. While at Berra’s residence, seven stolen calves were located locked inside a small covered patio style laundry room. The enclosure did not have water or food and an extra charge of animal cruelty may be added to the charge of grand theft. The calves were determined to have been stolen from Gold Star Calf Ranch and were returned to their owner.
Through the investigation, a second suspect, Raul Martinez, was identified as committing the crimes with Berra, his cousin. Martinez admitted to stealing the milk as well as the calves. He also admitted to involvement in a theft of 10 calves from a separate crime which occurred in June in the Tulare area.
Martinez, in an effort to cooperate with law enforcement, led detectives to two locations that had purchased the stolen goods. Five stolen cows and some of the stolen powdered milk were found at the first location outside of Tulare. It was determined that these suspects or others were running their own calf operations and raising them for beef or selling the untagged calves back to unsuspecting dairies. Most of the calves were clearly tagged by the owner-dairy and obviously stolen, but a few were not. No arrests were made at this location.
Information was obtained about another location in Kings County that had a large amount of the stolen property present. A search warrant was served at a calf ranch in the area of Iona and 12th Avenue, in Hanford. During the search, 156 bags of stolen powdered milk and other supplements were located at this site. The stolen property located took five trucks to transport back to the victim. Two suspects, Jose Barojas of Hanford and Isidro Barojas of Lemoore, were identified as receiving stolen property at this location and arrested. The sheriff’s department deemed that the powdered milk, supplements and medications were sold to people leaving orders and were also used to feed the stolen calves.
The sheriff’s department knows that the theft ring has been going on for three or four months, but suspects it has gone on much longer. They could not officially identify who was buying the stolen goods but said that some buyers were home-based businesses. The suspected buyers would place orders through the crime ring and then receive the stolen calves, food and supplements at much reduced price. The ring has been confined to Tulare and Kings County.
Two suspects are still at large but the department has some leads. Those suspected of stealing the calves and powdered milk are known to be very familiar with the operations of a dairy but it was not disclosed if they were dairy employees. A few days after birth, calves are separated from the hustle and bustle of the dairy where they are more susceptible to being stolen.
This six-week investigation resulted in the arrest of four suspects. Three search warrants were served in two counties, and $14,465 worth of powdered milk and supplements, and $8,400 worth of recovered stolen cattle for a total recovery of $22,865 worth of stolen property were claimed.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department has requested that anyone with information is encouraged to call the department at (559)733-6218 or send anonymous information by sending a text or email to [email protected], or call (559) 725-4194.