By Nicholas Varchaver
June 4, 2017

Good Morning.

You could be forgiven if you get the impression that the only tool you need to commit a crime these days is a high-powered laptop. Yet Outside’s “The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts” probes a type of theft that requires a lot of planning, equipment, and supply-chain connections. “Logistics” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when reading about robbers, but you could view this article as an exploration of that most fundamental aspect of business. As the story notes early on, “[if] you steal 370,000 pounds of almonds, you’re not ­going to sell it on the side of the road.”

The article describes a nut-related crime wave in California: “More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013. The number and style of the thefts—quick and professional, as if the characters from Ocean’s Eleven had descended on the Central Valley—have drawn the attention of federal organized-crime investigators and prompted the creation of a regional task force.”

There are a few moments where the writer seems to be playing the story for laughs. He describes how he met the “Nut Theft Task force” at a conference last year in Modesto: “The men were barrel-chested and serious, wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and blousey white dress shirts.” But then: “Shortly after the conference got under way, news ­arrived that ­another processor in ­Tulare had been hit, and the team excused itself to work leads by phone out in the hallway.”

Ultimately, the articles takes the problem seriously. It notes that the value of food stolen overtook that of electronics in 2010 and it ultimately turns into a detective story that examines the role of Armenian gangs and the unwitting: First, the fact that key players in the thefts—truck drivers—often don’t even know they’re participating in a crime; And second, as with more than one product that gets into the supply chain—everything from batteries to pharmaceuticals—consumers unknowingly participate in the conspiracy by ultimately buying the stolen goods.

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