Big Rig stolen out of Chowchilla with $45,000 in almond theft. Two arrested.

The Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce has arrested two suspects and is looking for a third in connection to a theft of almonds valued at $45,000.

StanCATT agents were able to recover the almonds, along with the big rig and two trailers that were stolen in the heist.

The scheme first came to the attention of law enforcement on Monday, Aug. 31 when a California Highway Patrol officer spotted a big rig with no trailers attached parked in the Keyes area. A check on the big rig showed it had been reported stolen out of Chowchilla and the CHP contacted StanCATT.

StanCaTT agents set up surveillance in the area and watched as a man, later identified as Joey Branco, who did some work on the big rig near the rear tires before leaving the area.

StanCATT continued to watch the big rig as another man arrived and proceeded to drive the big rig to a farm on Yosemite Boulevard, east of Geer Road. At the farm, two trailers were attached to the big rig before it pulled out again.

The driver of the big rig stopped at Geer Road and Whitmore Avenue. He fled from the area and has not been apprehended.

StanCATT agents returned to the farm on Yosemite, where they found approximately 24,000 pounds of raw almonds that had been unloaded from the two trailers. The two trailers were reported stolen out of Madera County.

Through the investigation, StanCATT agents identified Eugene Oliver Leonardo, 46, of Chowchilla, as a suspect in the thefts. They believe Leonardo was responsible for stealing the big rig and the two trailers that were hauling the almonds. They said Leonardo contacted Branco, who in turn set up a deal to sell the almonds to another individual. The individual was going to pay $4,000 for $45,000 worth of almonds, according to StanCATT.

StanCATT continued keeping tabs on Branco and on Wednesday they were watching a residence and saw him load a motorcycle into the back of a pickup truck. A CHP officer stopped Branco after he left the residence and found the motorcycle had been reported stolen. Branco was taken into custody without incident.

StanCATT agents returned to the residence and made contact with Luis Galvan. They saw Galvan had a Polaris Phoenix quad runner in the bed of his truck. A check revealed that quad runner had also been reported stolen and Galvan was taken into custody.

Both Branco and Galvan were charged with possession of stolen property.

The big rig was returned to its owner, who in turn delivered the almonds and the trailers to the rightful owner.

The investigation into the thefts is ongoing.

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Leornardo is asked to contact StanCATT at 581-9250 or send them a message on Facebook.

http://www.cerescourier.com/section/34/article/6014/

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