Black Market Nuts and the Limits of Technology

Black Market Nuts and the Limits of Technology

Now, I like pistachios as much as the next person. (Which is to say, I will open a bag, blackout for 20 minutes, and then come to with a fine, pale green dust in the air and all the nuts mysteriously gone)

But apparently, I don’t like pistachios as much as 34-year-old Alberto Montemayor does – though, more accurately, he may be more interested in their monetary value than their rich, buttery taste. Montemayor was recently discovered to be the perpetrator of California’s largest-to-date nut heist, having lifted 42,000 pounds (19 tonnes!) of them from Touchstone Pistachio Company, a pistachio grower and processor.

Turns out, the black market in stolen nuts is quite lucrative, especially in California, where regular nut trade churns $5.2 million USD through the state economy. And, like any bootleg concern, the illegal nut market boasts its own unique set of rules and fascinating culture.

“Nuts are an ideal high-priced items to steal and resell because unlike electronic devices, pistachios don’t have serial numbers — making them virtually untraceable. […]

Thieves have used forged documents, fake companies and computer hacking, BuzzFeed News reported in 2016, to pose as legitimate truckers. Similarly, the thieves are also able to sell off the product to retailers, who are none the wiser about who is actually receiving the money. Last July, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office arrested two men accused of going to an almond and pistachio distribution center and posing as drivers picking up a shipment. […]

But during the past few years, thefts have declined as the farm industry has become savvy to the schemes and larger growers have adopted new policies, such as taking photos and thumbprints from drivers.

Until now, this type of theft was possible due to its sheer low-techness. (Police found most of the pistachios in a simple trailer in a nearby parking lot, where Montemayor had divided them into 2000 pound sacks for an easy sale.) But Touchstone kicked the case into gear through an audit, which uncovered the bizarre deficit. And, with authorities bringing the abovementioned new policies to bear on would-be nut-bandits, that exploitable tech gap is closing. And anything that increases the chances of pistachios ending up in my mouth is fine by me!