Editor's note: The following article was published in the AgAlert, the weekly newspaper for California Agriculture that is created by the California Farm Bureau Federation.
As farmers around the state continue to be plagued by metal theft and other property crimes, a newly established task force in one Northern California county reports success in arresting suspects accused of metal theft and other crimes affecting farmers and ranchers.
Investigations during the past few months by the Yolo County Sheriff's Office Ag Theft Task Force have led to the arrests of 37 suspects for a variety of rural crimes, and to the recovery of $170,000 worth of stolen agricultural property.
For example, Ag Theft Task Force deputies Mike Glaser and Tommy Hayes solved seven hay theft cases in which the total value of stolen hay exceeded $20,000. Just last month, they broke up a hay theft ring that had been successfully operating in the county for two years.
Deputies Glaser and Hayes conducted an investigation leading to information that a farmer's employee was involved in allegedly stealing hay from the farm at which he was employed. As a result, three people were arrested and 550 bales of stolen hay, valued at about $8,500, were recovered and returned to Tim Heidrick, farm manager of Joe Heidrick Farms in Woodland.
"We had a harrow bed (bale wagon) operator who had been working for us for over 10 years. We had two fields in our rotation that were close to other buildings where he would sneak a load of hay bales in early morning or late afternoon," explained Heidrick, who also grows rice, wheat, corn, sunflowers, safflower and seed crops. "He was dropping our hay behind a house that was nearby—about 300 yards away from the field—and hiding it there. He was selling it to another foreman, who sold it to a hay retriever."
Heidrick said he is grateful to the Ag Theft Task Force for recovering his hay and solving the crime. Three individuals were arrested and charged with five counts of grand theft and embezzlement.
"The task force did a very good job. They worked the leads they had received and pursued this case until arrests could be made," Heidrick said.
With the use of GPS tracking devices and surveillance, the task force solved the hay thefts that were happening at Heidrick's and elsewhere in the county. In another case, Glaser said he told fellow deputies to "look for a truck and a trailer towing hay between 2 and 4 in the morning."
"Lo and behold, one of the deputies saw the truck and pulled them over and I got the call," Glaser said. "The suspect admitted to hitting places in the county 12 different times. He was selling hay in the Bay Area for $20 a bale."