How to Steal 50 Million Bees

Bloomberg Businessweek     By Josh Dean     June 26, 2018

Every winter, apiarists from all over America rent their hives to farmers in California, attracting the attention of some very specialized thieves.

ILLUSTRATION: ALEXIS BEAUCLAIR FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Lloyd Cunniff felt terrible, literally sick to his stomach, about trucking his bees to California, but fate had painted him into a corner. Bad weather, bad luck, scrawny, needy bees—a whole mess of headaches had upset the economics at Beeline Honey, his third-generation apiary in Montana. It was colony collapse in 2015 that had really tipped things sideways. The mysterious affliction, which causes worker bees to vacate a hive en masse, had destroyed half of the Beeline colonies. Cunniff and his wife, Brenda, were down to 489 hives, when he bit the bullet and did the thing he really didn’t want to do.

In January 2017, Cunniff piled 488 of his 489 bee boxes—24 to a pallet—onto a semitruck trailer, strapped them down, and headed west to chase the sweet, sweet almond dollars that were drawing so many of his beekeeping brethren to California’s Central Valley. Loaning his bees out for a season, 1,000 miles away, made him very uncomfortable. But if your business is bees, California is where the big money is. Or it is at least in February, when 1.2 million acres of almond trees don’t get pollinated without the help of honeybees, which love almond flowers. California produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, and over the past 15 years the trees have come to dominate the valley, pushing out all kinds of row crops. There aren’t enough California bees to pollinate them, so every year the call goes out to keepers: Bring your boxes west. An acre of almond trees needs at least two hives, meaning that every February, 2.5 million colonies—two-thirds of the commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S.—are clustered in a few California counties. Beekeepers command as much as $200 per hive for the season, which runs a few weeks.

Cunniff has a long-standing relationship with Strachan Apiaries, a Yuba City-based business that’s one of the most famous names in American bees. Don Strachan, the founder, helped Cunniff’s grandfather get his apiary up and running. For years now, Valeri Strachan, Don’s granddaughter, has sent a few trucks of California bees to Montana to make clover honey in the summer, when there’s little for those bees to eat or do in the Central Valley. So when Cunniff decided to participate in the 2017 almond season, the Strachans were happy to help out an old friend. They arranged for farmers to hire his bees and offered to keep them for a few weeks until it was time to head south from Sutter County toward Fresno and the trees.

When Cunniff arrived in Yuba City, the Strachans directed him and his truck to a dike running along some sunflower fields southwest of town, between the Sacramento River and the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s where he unloaded his bees on Jan. 17, arranging the boxes in tidy rows. Leaving them that evening, Cunniff felt better about things. The bees seemed happy; that’s what he told Brenda when he called her from his hotel.

The next morning he rose early and drove back to the site. The fog had rolled in overnight, and Lloyd couldn’t see 100 feet past his nose, so he wandered around to make certain he wasn’t fog-blind. Then he double-checked to be sure he was in the right place, because goddamn if something weird hadn’t happened: The hives were gone.

Almost 50 million bees, in 488 white boxes with cedar lids, every one of them hand-crafted by Cunniff, had vanished into the fog.

The first thing Philip Strachan, Valeri’s son, thought when Cunniff called him in a fugue state, muttering about stolen bees, was that this was the work of professionals. No normal criminal would think to steal bees or have the equipment or know-how to pull it off. Cunniff was thinking the same way, and the evidence was right there in the dirt. He could tell by the thieves’ tracks that they’d used single-axle, dual-wheeled straight trucks, and not semis, probably because they knew there wasn’t room to turn a semi around in a hurry. He also saw signs of a forklift, so they’d come prepared to lift pallets.

Hives go missing; that’s no surprise. But historically, Strachan says, it’s been “one here, two there.” Just some drunk opportunists in a pickup. But this was a methodical operation. Cunniff’s weren’t the only hives taken. In total, more than 700 of them, valued at as much as a million dollars, went missing in a single night. In addition to the heavy equipment, the burglars needed the gear required to subdue and corral the boxes—namely, full keeper suits and hand-held smokers. Whoever did this knew how to handle bees.

And this wasn’t the first time, either. What sounds to novice ears like the plot of Fargo Season 4—a crew of guys in white suits and beekeeper hoods boosting hives in the fog—is a small but growing niche of agricultural crime. Two years prior, someone stole a bunch of hives in a neighboring county, and the next year more were taken, Strachan says. Counting the loss of Cunniff’s bees in 2017, then, “it was three years in a row that we had large thefts in this area.”

“I wouldn’t steal my neighbor’s car and park it right next door”

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, hive heists are an epidemic. There the motive is manuka honey, a highly prized variety that goes for $150 a kilogram (or 2.2 pounds), and authorities suspect an organized crime syndicate may be to blame. “It doesn’t matter if it’s beekeeping or meth; this is just the new gold rush,” one apiary manager told Reuters.

The culprits in California were almost certainly not local. Beekeepers are a close-knit community. They share wisdom and are aware of one another’s operations and equipment, particularly within a given area. Anyone new showing up with a bunch of hives for hire is going to stand out. “I wouldn’t steal my neighbor’s car and park it right next door,” Strachan says. “And it was pretty obvious that if you were going to take them from this area, they’re probably going to take them straight down to the almonds.”

Cunniff grew up around bees and hears their buzz in his sleep. His grandfather tended hives on the high plains of Montana, so did his father, and so did he, as soon as he was old enough to participate, at age 13. The morning of the theft, Cunniff drove around in a daze, his hope dwindling. He stopped every time he saw a beekeeper tending to boxes, but their reactions sunk his spirits further. The bees, folks said, were almost certainly gone forever. Stolen bees just aren’t found. “One kid said that he’d lost 300 colonies the year before and never saw anything of them,” Cunniff recalls.

He’d hated the idea of moving his bees in the first place, but this was far worse than anything he imagined. He’d lost so much more than the $100,000 in pollination fees. His entire livelihood was gone. One day, he had almost 500 hives. The next, he had one. “I was 57 years old, and I had to start over from scratch,” he says. “Where I had been thinking about retiring, now I got to … there’s no way I can retire now.”

Valeri Strachan, a former president of the California State Beekeepers Association, mobilized that organization. The CSBA has a fund for rewards, and it put up $10,000 for information that could lead to an arrest and conviction for the hive thefts. More important, law enforcement took notice. Agriculture crime detectives in Madera, Sutter, and Fresno counties were all put on the case, and the FBI even offered assistance.

Around the state, bee people were on the lookout for boxes that fit the description of those stolen from Cunniff and several others, but with 2.5 million hives in a concentrated area, the task was daunting. California law requires commercial keepers to brand their boxes by burning or cutting a state-assigned number into the wood. But the law isn’t strictly followed. Some beekeepers can’t be bothered, whereas others, such as Cunniff, are from out of state.

Market forces wouldn’t help, either. Demand in almond season is often desperate, something thieves can exploit. “You’re going to come across somebody who may not have bees on his almonds yet, and you’re like, ‘Do you want bees?’ And that guy is not going to ask questions,” Philip Strachan says, “because without those bees, he’s not going to have a crop.”

ILLUSTRATION: ALEXIS BEAUCLAIR FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKCunniff’s main business is honey. That’s how it used to be for most apiaries, especially those on the high plains of the western U.S., where the air is clear, the water is clean, and the forage, as keepers call the many plants bees plunder for pollen and nectar, is plentiful. Bees in Montana and the Dakotas produce more honey per hive than any other bees in America, and that’s been good enough to keep three generations of Cunniffs housed and fed, with money left over to vacation in Hawaii and send the kids to good colleges.

But the business isn’t what it used to be, for them or anyone else who raises bees commercially. Today’s commercial beekeeper can never relax. He can expect to lose 30 percent of his bee stock every year, from bad flower years, pesticides, disease, and bears, which really do love honey, just like the cartoons say. Climate change is a problem, especially as it pertains to drought, because bees need lots of water. They both drink it and collect it to take back to the hives for the queen and her nurses, which is why you always find bees floating in pools and buzzing around leaky sinks.

“We spend so much money to keep them alive,” Cunniff says. “We feed them pollen substitutes that we never, ever dreamed of.” Those are $2.50 a pop for each hive. “They used to make enough honey to make it through the winter. Now they won’t make it. You got to feed them corn syrup at 40¢ a gallon.” Twice a year, he treats for varroa mites, a scourge his father never had to deal with. The treatment used to cost $1 a hive. It’s now $4.

“It’s probably twice the labor it used to be to maintain the beehives,” says Valeri Strachan, who took over the Strachan Apiaries business when her father passed away and will soon hand it over to Philip. Honey is third on the list of revenue streams for the Strachans. Above that is queen bee breeding. If an apiary in America is using Carniolan queens, they’ve almost certainly been bred by the Strachans, who’ve perfected the art. Valeri’s specialty, and it’s a rare one, is instrumental insemination. She’s one of a handful of Americans who can extract semen from drone bees and use it to inseminate virgin queens, a delicate skill requiring a steady hand, tiny tools, and a microscope. The Strachans produce close to 50,000 queen bees a year. “We use some, some die, and then the rest are shipped,” Philip says. A healthy Carniolan queen costs $31 (or $28 if you buy bulk); she’ll be sent overnight by UPS in a tiny box with screened sides along with six bodyguard bees that tend to her needs in transit.

At the top of the pyramid for the Strachans is pollination. The company maintains an average of 10,000 hives in a given year, an exponential leap from the 600 Valeri’s father started with and the most it has the space for. Bees move from almonds to prunes to any one of many other crops: apples, cherries, melons, sunflowers. This summer there are eight Strachan hives in a cilantro field; others will soon be sent to farmers of alfalfa seed.

Back in 2013, a Whole Foods in Rhode Island wanted people to recognize how important bees are to their daily diet. For a few days, the market removed all produce that grew on plants that depend on pollinators. More than half of the section was empty: 237 of 453 products in the section, or 52 percent of the store’s produce, were gone.

In late May 2017, four months after Cunniff’s hives vanished in the fog, someone who knew enough about bees to recognize an odd sight called the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to report something suspicious: A vacant lot at the intersection of two roads about 20 minutes east of downtown Fresno was filled with bee boxes—many more than any reputable beekeeper would store at a single location. And it wasn’t just too many boxes. These were scattered all over the one-acre lot, stacked haphazardly, and in various shapes, sizes, and colors.

When a Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at midday to inspect the site, bees impeded his investigation. They’re most active in warm temperatures, and these bees were agitated—too agitated for him to get anywhere near the boxes without getting stung.

Cops returned later, this time after dark, and found what Fresno Detective Andres Solis called a “chop shop” for hives. A man in full beekeeper regalia—veil and all—was sitting in a passage between some stacked boxes that seemed to be his workspace. He appeared to be in the process of splitting each colony into two, so he’d have twice as many hives to market. (Half the hives would then be without a queen, of course, but healthy hives often split anyway, when they get overpopulated. The bees make a new queen from a fertilized egg.) Nearby was a station where someone had been sanding and repainting, as well as a stencil for the name that had been sloppily spray-painted on many of the boxes: Allstate Apiaries Inc.

That was the name of the apiary operated by the man detectives arrested there, a 51-year-old Ukrainian immigrant named Pavel Tveretinov, who’d been renting hives to local almond growers and selling them to buyers around the U.S.

Detectives asked a local beekeeper named Ryan Cousins to come down to the lot and help them ID the hives so they could begin the process of getting the very angry insects back to their rightful owners. Cunniff’s boxes weren’t marked, but they were handmade and had a unique configuration of frames inside. Cousins recognized them from photos Valeri Strachan had posted on Facebook.

Several of the thousands of recovered beehives near Sanger, Calif., on May 16, 2017.PHOTOGRAPHER: SCOTT SMITH/AP PHOTO

The police called the Cunniffs in Montana, and Lloyd and Brenda drove immediately to Great Falls to catch a flight to Fresno. They were on a stopover in Salt Lake City when a detective called with an update. “He said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we found two more locations with your bees since you got on the plane this morning!’ ” Cunniff recalls.

In California he went immediately to one of the lots and wandered through the rows of tipped and broken boxes, angry bees buzzing around his head. “Hives were tipped over and mixed together,” Cunniff says. “Oh God, it was like a nightmare.” Many had been split from their normal two-story configuration into single hives, not to mention painted over and affixed with the new stencil. He spotted some hives that looked familiar. He pulled out his phone and called the young man he’d met near Yuba City the day his own hives were taken, the one who said he’d lost 300 hives and was sure they were gone forever. He thought he ought to tell him he was right: None of his bees were left. “It was just empty equipment,” Cunniff says.

The authorities recovered more than 600 hives at the three locations, stolen over the course of at least three years. They charged Tveretinov, along with another Ukrainian immigrant, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, with 10 felony counts of possession of stolen property, and estimated that the value of the stolen equipment and bees was at least $875,000, making it “the largest bee-theft investigation we’ve ever had,” says Arley Terrence, a sergeant in the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Beekeepers from three states flew in to assess the damage and salvage what they could. “We had no intention of bringing anything home,” Cunniff says. The insurance company had told him not to. “But once we got down there, there was so much equipment, we just couldn’t leave it.”

Cousins called some friends, who brought a truck and a forklift and helped Cunniff load his gear and the remaining bees. The truck wasn’t big enough to carry it all, so they left some overnight, and when they went back in the morning it was gone. “They had come in and stolen some of the stuff, again,” Cunniff says. It was later recovered, again.

In beekeeper circles, it’s widely believed the arrested men are part of a larger criminal enterprise. But neither the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office nor the district attorney assigned to the case is pursuing that angle. The trial has yet to be scheduled, and the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Detectives initially feared the men would be a flight risk, but they’ve appeared at every hearing. “I’m a little surprised that they keep showing up,” Sheriff’s office spokesman Tony Botti says. “But they’re still insisting they’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t understand it.”

Sometime this fall, Kelsey Peterson, a deputy district attorney and agriculture crimes prosecutor, will open the state’s case against the two defendants in a courtroom at the Fresno County Courthouse, which itself looks very much like a honeycomb. As of late May, her investigator, Doug Bolton, was still pursuing leads in the hope that she might be able to add theft charges on top of possession. “I’d like to do that for the victims,” Peterson says.

Cunniff trucked his bees home last summer, but he and Brenda had already started over with all new hives, most of them started with Carniolan queens either given to him or sold at an extreme discount by the Strachans. “We were starting over, and then all of a sudden these other bees show up,” he says. He had to quarantine the old bees, to make sure they hadn’t picked up any diseases. “That’s like a whole different operation. You can’t go work on those colonies and then come work on the new colonies unless you sterilize all your equipment and change gloves,” he says. “I had to hire three or four guys just to try to keep up with all these different things that we were doing at the same time.”

Insurance covered a chunk of his losses, but not the loss of income from the missed almond season or all the honey he couldn’t make last year. This year his policy premiums jumped $8,000. The insurance company also decided it would no longer cover lost bees, only equipment.

That’s why, when January 2018 rolled around, Cunniff was once more doing the thing he’d hated to do in the first place, the thing he’d thought he’d never do again. He stacked his hives—456 of them—on a truck, strapped them down, and headed for California. This time he took precautions. Instead of bringing in the hives early to settle in and acclimate—but also give “everybody that’s crooked a chance to scope everything out and drive around and find stuff that’s easy to get to”—Cunniff waited until the last possible minute to take them west.

Unlike last year, the bees all came home. “They made some money, and we got them back in pretty good shape,” he says.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-26/how-to-steal-50-million-bees

(Thank you to Bloomberg Businessweek from the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association.)

Beekeepers Feel The Sting Of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt    All Things Considered  June 27, 2017

Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive.

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPR. That was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/06/27/534128664/beekeepers-feel-the-sting-of-california-s-giant-beehive-heist

Related: /home/2017/6/23/two-men-charged-in-major-beehive-theft-targeting-central-val.html

Beekeepers Feel the Sting of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt   Heard on All Things Considered   By Ezra David Romero     June 27, 2017Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Heard on All Things Considered:

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPRThat was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/06/27/534128664/beekeepers-feel-the-sting-of-california-s-giant-beehive-heist

Two Men Charged in Major Beehive Theft Targeting Central Valley Almond Orchards

Los Angeles Times    By Veronica Rocha    June 23, 2017

In this May 16 file photo, several of the thousands of recovered beehives stolen in California are shown near Sanger, Calif. (Scott Smith / Associated Press)Fresno County prosecutors have charged two men in a series of beehive thefts that targeted Central Valley almond orchards.

Pavel Tveretinov, 51, and Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, are each facing nine felony counts of receiving stolen property and one misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property, with the allegation saying the stolen beehives were worth more than $200,000, according to the Fresno County district attorney’s office.

Tveretinov is being held in the Fresno County Jail. An arrest warrant has been issued for Yeroshenko.

Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, of Antelope (Fresno County Sheriff's Office)For more than a year, beekeepers throughout the Central Valley had been reporting hive thefts to local authorities. The thefts triggered concerns throughout the apiary industry, and an advisory went out to beekeepers, bee brokers and almond growers urging them to stay vigilant.

Authorities had been investigating the thefts for months, and then they finally on April 28.

When detectives visited an orchard in Fresno to follow up on a theft report, they spotted Tveretinov in a beekeeper suit tending to more than 100 beehives.

The beehives had been stolen from a Madera County orchard in March, according to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.

Tveretinov was arrested, and investigators said they later discovered that he was behind a nearly $1-million beehive theft operation, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Pavel Tveretinov, a beekeeper from Sacramento, is accused of stealing beehives throughout the Central Valley, authorities said. (Fresno County Sheriff's Office)According to prosecutors, Tveretinov, a Sacramento resident, and Yeroshenko, an Antelope resident, had accumulated more than 1,200 beehives.

The beehives were stolen from 10 beekeepers over two years, prosecutors said. According to sheriff’s officials, most of the stolen hives belonged to out-of-state beekeepers, who rented out their colonies to California almond tree growers looking to pollinate their crops.

Sheriff’s investigators said Tveretinov stole the hives at night, when bees are dormant, and moved them on flatbed trailers around California and to other states. Tveretinov likely rented the hives out for cash, authorities said.

If convicted Tveretinov and Yeroshenko face more than 10 years in county jail, prosecutors said.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-central-valley-beehive-theft-charges-20170623-story.html

The Great California Bee Heist: Authorities Identify Russian-Ukrainian Suspect

NBC News   By Tim Stelloh    May 15, 2017

In this undated image, men with special beekeeper hats assess Beeline Honey's stolen hives after they were recovered in Fresno County, California. Beeline HoneyIt was probably the biggest bee heist in California history: on January 17, hundreds of hives vanished from Sutter County, north of Sacramento.

Now, authorities believe they've identified a Russian-Ukrainian suspect in the crime — along with a string of other bee thefts that they believe he carried out in California and possibly beyond.

Pavel Tveretinov, 51, was arrested on April 28 in Madera County on suspicion of possessing stolen property, Fresno County Sheriff's Detective Andres Solis told NBC News.

But the charge was never officially filed after Fresno County took over the case, Solis said. The sheriff's office has not pursued additional charges, he added, "because it's probably going federal."

An FBI spokeswoman would not confirm or deny an investigation. Messages left at phone numbers for Tveretinov were not returned Monday.

Thefts have so far been documented in six California counties, Solis said. Ten victims have put their losses at nearly $1 million, he said.

Often, they were working in a booming almond business that attracts beekeepers from across the United States.

The bees pollinate almond trees, helping to produce a crop that cleared two billion pounds last year. In a single season, Solis said, a beekeeper can earn $180,000 after expenses.

"They're coming with their bees from all over the country," said Ryan Coysns, whose family farm has been in the bee business for 12 years.

The case against Tveretinov broke in March, after he brought a beekeeper from Missouri to a nursery in Fresno County that has long catered to the profession.

A beekeeper's equipment is often marked with unique identifiers, and the man from Missouri noticed hives that looked like they belonged to his friends, a couple that offers pollination and other services back home.

Plus, Solis added, the beekeeper also noticed that the equipment at the nursery didn't look right.

"It looked like a chop shop for bee hives," Solis said. "They're everywhere. They scattered and different kinds are mixed with other kinds."

Using FaceTime, the beekeeper dialed the couple. After showing them what he'd found, Solis said, they hopped on a plane to Fresno.

Solis said authorities later identified two other areas in the county that were being used to store stolen property.

At one of them, they found hundreds of the beehives that were stolen in Sutter County.

One of those unlucky beekeepers, Lloyd Cunniff, of Beeline Honey in Choteau, Montana, lost 488 hives, or enough bees to pollinate 244 acres of almond trees. He put his losses at more than $400,000.

Coysns described the crime — and a second one that occurred nearby the same night — as "probably the biggest bee theft ever."

On May 7, Cunniff got back two-thirds of his equipment, which had been spray-painted with somebody else's name. On Monday, the bees that survived were quarantined and being fed antibiotics and treated for mites.

Did Cunniff plan to return to California?

"If I'm short on money," he said. 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/great-california-bee-heist-authorities-identify-russian-ukrainian-suspect-n759886

CSBA News Update: October 17, 2016

California State Beekeepers Association   From Joy Pendell, CSBA Media Director   October 17, 2016

CSBA News Update for your reading enjoyment. Happy reading! 

Disclaimer: Inclusion of items in this email does not imply CSBA endorsement unless such endorsement is specifically stated.

Should Read

Hive Theft Alert – See pictures

The theft season has begun early this year! Olivarez Honey Bees discovered 8 beehives missing on 10/12/16 from a bee yard west of Corning, CA. The hives were on bottom boards, which were loose on pallets. The hives, bottom boards and pallets were all taken. Because the hives were loose on pallets, it is possible (and even likely) that everything was moved by hand. The hives are 8-frame double deeps, white, and branded 42-51. 

 

Olivarez Honey Bees also suffered the theft of queen banks in April of this year. At least 150 queens were taken. There was a report of someone trying to sell OHB queens for cash outside of the Mann Lake bee supply store in Woodland, CA shortly thereafter.

Ray Olivarez is personally offering a $2500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for either the theft of the hives or the theft of the queen banks. This is in addition to the up to $10,000 reward the CSBA offers. Please contact the CSBA at castatebeekeepers@hotmail.com to report any information.



Nice to Read
 

WAS – News From The World Of Beekeeping 

WAS – News From the World Of Beekeeping 

Catch The Buzz – Almond Industry Slams Land Use Study For Inaccuracies  

Capital Press - Researchers Test Almonds In Idaho  

Catch The Buzz – Healthy Snack Market Growing During ‘War On Sugar’  

ABF - 2017 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow Agenda

Beekeeping Survey

A group of Slovenian Students is seeking information to assist in their research. Please participate!

 New York Times – Bee-2-B

Catch The Buzz – White House Kitchen Garden Will Continue With Funding Provided By Burpee Seed Co. To National Park Foundation

Scientific American - A Plan to Defend against the War on Science  

UC Davis – World Of Honey Tasting Series

UC Davis – Honey and Pollination Center October Newsletter

   YouTube – Morning Bees

 

Bug Squad: "As Bees Vanish"

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    February 18, 2016

As bees vanish, bee heists multiply!" screamed a Feb 16th headline in TheWashington Post.

So true.

For her news story, reporter Jenny Starrs interviewed "Bee Detective" Jay Freeman of the Butte County Sheriff's Office (he's a detective all year long but a "bee detective" during almond pollination season and he also keeps bees).

"At the start of pollination season in 2010, the average hive cost $130 to rent," Starrs wrote. "Rental fees are $200 this year, and will continue going up as hives continue to die off. The industry is becoming increasingly volatile, increasingly expensive and thus, increasingly criminalized."

In past years, we remember hearing about several hives stolen here, several hives stolen there, and a few more over there. But now bee hive thievery is rampant.  Detective Freeman reported hundreds of hives stolen and cited the numbers: 240 from an operation in Colusa County, 64 from an operation in Butte, 280 in Sutter County...the list seems endless.

The California State Beekeepers' Association has now set up Bee Theft Alerts on its web page.

It's good to see that the CSBA is offering a reward up to $10,000 for the arrest and conviction of persons stealing CSBA members' bees or equipment. CSBA is also encouraging beekeepers to report the thefts, no matter how small.

It's working. The Butte County Sheriff's Office arrested a suspect Feb. 6 and charged him with stealing 64 bee hives  from Olivarez Honey Bees Inc. in Chico and trucking them to a Stanislaus County almond orchard.

Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--his career spanned 38 years--told us last week that apparently beekeepers or people with beekeeping knowledge are stealing the hives. "Maybe they used to work for some of these beekeeping operations, and know where the hives are," he said. So, in the dead of the night, the thieves are moving in the big trucks and forklifts, hauling them away, and then renting them to unsuspecting almond growers. The culprits pocket the money and never return for "their" colonies.

“Most people, when they lose their hives, figure they're never going to get found,” California State Beekeepers' Association media director Joy Pendell told Starrs. “It's very frustrating for us, because we go all winter without any income. So we put all this money and work into them for months, and we're about to have our payday and someone just goes and steals it.”

The Bee Culture journal, edited by Kim Flottom, has also sounded the alert.

"If you have had any hives stolen within the last couple years, please email Joy Pendell directly at jpendell11@gmail.com with brand numbers, a description and pictures," Flottum wrote. "The California State Beekeepers would like to create a complete history of hive theft in our industry to share with law enforcement and interested media outlets. If you know of a theft victim who is not a CSBA member, please pass along this information so they can report as well. The CSBA represents the interests of all California beekeepers plus they would like to create a summary of bee theft both inside and outside of our organization."

At a recent meeting of the California Bee Breeders' Association that we attended in Ordbend, Glenn County, members talked about stepping up patrols and recruiting volunteers to monitor remote areas at night and early morning.

Just call it "The Sting" operation.

Unfortunately, all this bee thievery may worsen. Gordy Wardell recently reported in the Project Apis mnewsletter that California's total number of almond acreage is now at 1 million.

 

  http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=20253

Bee Theft Pick Up as Almond Bloom Begins

Western Farm Press   By Todd Fitchette    February 2, 2016    

The annual push to get about 1.8 million colonies of bees to pollinate California’s almond crop is a necessary and profitable relationship between the beekeeper and the grower.

It’s a time of the year when upwards of 90 percent of all the managed bees in the United States are clustered into one relatively small region.

Sadly it is also a profitable time for more nefarious activities.



Continue reading (Crime victim speaks out and includes Tips): http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/bee-thefts-pick-almond-bloom-begins?page=3

Authorities Warn of Beehive Thefts Connected to Almond Pollination

CATCH THE BUZZ   February 3, 2016

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office says it has received information regarding recent thefts of hundreds of beehives in neighboring counties, reminding ranchers and farmers to remain vigilant in their almond orchards.

Last year, about 200 beehives were reported stolen in Butte County just before and during the beginning of almond pollination, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release.

The Sheriff’s Office says it knows of about 500 beehives that have been stolen in January around Butte County, including an incident in which 280 beehives were stolen in Colusa County, according to the release.

The authorities believe the thefts are carried out by...

Continue reading: http://goo.gl/Zsl5TX

Apprehenders of Bee Thief Rewarded!

CSBA Bee Times June 2015

Apprehenders of Bee Thief Rewarded! 

At the  5/15/15 CSBA board meeting, the Board of Directors presented $1,000 rewards to Dre Castano and Vincent Perez, employees of Rank Investigations - Protection, for their efforts which led to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of an attempted theft of Orin Johnson's bee colonies.  

Mr. Castano, who was off duty at the time, noted irregular activity on the road near the golf course protected by his company, investigated this activity and caught the thief red-handed. Having called for backup, Mr. Castano was joined by Mr. Perez. Together with Orin, they restored the colonies to their proper location and detained the thief until police arrived and arrested him. They went above and beyond the call of duty to their company, which had no obligation to protect Orin's property.  


This is one of the very few instances in which a bee thief has been not only caught but convicted! We are all very thankful to Mr. Castano and Mr. Perez and hope that would-be bee colony thieves will take notice.

Bee Theft from Almond Orchard Near Kettleman City

576 Hives have been stolen in the last week from an Almond Orchard on the westside of the valley by Kettleman City. The hives are white and silver with plywood lids and branded with 35-25 on the side. They are set on blue pallets and belong to Morris Honey Farms. There is a $10,000.00 reward for anybody with any legitimate information.

If anybody knows anything, please contact:
Paul Morris:  559-977-2688 or Donald Morris:  559-289-4595        

Bee Thefts!!! This came in from the Delta Bee Club

Out on Tim Bell Road in Waterford CA 96 hives were stolen.  48 from AgPollen LLC with brand JW Smith on them, 4 way pallets, white mix of box styles and lids.  48 hives from Eric Olsen branded with Simpson Honey on them, 4 way pallets, white boxes, hives tied to pallets with rope.   They were taken on or around February 10th.  

Contact:  
Nicholas Chase (209) 628-6823 nchase@agpollen.com AgPollen LLC
Eric Olsen (509) 952-6925

Thanks for the help.

The California Bee Breeders are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who steals bee colonies.  With the CSBA’s standing $10,000 reward, a qualifying report could result in a $15,000 reward.

Bee Thefts - Get the word out!

"It must be almond pollination time, with reports of bee thefts." CSBA Sec/Treas, Carlen Jupe. 2/23/13

 


From Darren Cox: "If you can get the word out I had 80 hives stolen in the Oakdale Waterford area. Any help to recover my property and put the bad guys away for a long time would be great. There is a $10,000 REWARD." Contact: coxhoney@gmail.com

From Gene Brandi: "I heard of another theft of about 100 colonies near Firebaugh which were white double deeps (with an occasional green super) marked "DUFF" although I am not sure who owns them." Contact: gbrandi@sbcglobal.net  

(Thank you, Carlen, for your e-mail blasts.)