Wednesday, September 22, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 29

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 26th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 21

Sheriff's Office uncovers black market for stolen agricultural equipment


A lengthy investigation by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office uncovered thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen property, resulting in several arrests. The arrests also resulted in a major decline in reports of agricultural thefts in the Santa Maria Valley, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The investigation, driven by the Sheriff’s Office’s Rural Crimes Unit, revealed more than one location in Santa Maria where stolen agricultural equipment and materials are re-sold illegally through a black market, according to Detective John McCarthy, who handles all rural crime investigations in Santa Barbara County.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is still looking for the rightful owner of a pressure washer and a welder that were recovered during recent investigations of agricultural theft.

Frequently unoccupied farms, ranches, and vineyards with vast acreage are often targets of theft, McCarthy said, and stolen agricultural equipment has a hefty resale value. But McCarthy said reports of agricultural crime in the Santa Maria Valley came to a “screeching halt” after four suspects were arrested and two others were identified.

“That’s a good indication that you have the right people,” he said. “We still have agricultural crimes and thefts all the time, but not on the scale we did for those months.”

Eleazar Sanchez-Cruz of Santa Maria was arrested under suspicion of burglary and conspiracy on April 29 after allegedly stealing $17,000 worth of agricultural chemicals from a farm on the 4400 block of Brown Road, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Sanchez-Cruz, 32, was reportedly found trespassing on another ranch before his arrest.

Investigators discovered that the stolen chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizer, were located at a storage facility but had been moved before law enforcement’s arrival, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Still, deputies recovered several hundred dollars’ worth of stolen construction equipment, including an item that was successfully returned to its owner.

The arrest of Sanchez-Cruz led to the identification of two more suspects, 23-year-old Marcos Cerda Adame and 20-year-old Guadalupe Garcia Mendez, both of Santa Maria, who were arrested on June 17.

Two other suspects were identified by law enforcement in late April after a $7,000 Polaris Ranger four-wheel ATV was reported stolen from a farm on West Betteravia Road and then spotted by its owner in the yard of a Santa Maria home, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The ATV, along with a stolen $1,400 injection pump, was recovered and both items were returned to their owners.

McCarthy said two 19-year-old men are suspected of stealing the items, but neither of them had a criminal history and they have not been arrested. Instead, McCarthy said, their cases were passed along to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office on recommended charges of grand theft, motor vehicle theft, and conspiracy.

Jairo Escobedo of Santa Maria was also arrested and booked into jail on June 15 under suspicion of burglary, felony vandalism, grand theft, and trespassing after allegedly taking a $25,000 equipment trailer and $1,400 worth of other materials from a farm near Bonita School Road in May. A witness gave a detailed description of the suspect, the Sheriff’s Office said, and the trailer was later found at an adjacent farm.

Weeks after the trailer’s theft, officers investigated a felony vandalism case at another farm near the intersection of Brown Road and Highway 1, where they found evidence tying the two cases together. This, according to the Sheriff’s Office, led law enforcement to 32-year-old Escobedo.

McCarthy said this information was only recently released to the public in an effort to inform more farmers and ranchers of the crimes and their subsequent arrests. Although rural crimes in the Santa Maria area have declined, McCarthy said the Sheriff’s Office hopes to help inform the community on possible preventative measures.

Residents should always take time to put a name, phone number, or other identifying mark on property to make it easily returnable if stolen. McCarthy said farmers and ranchers should try to keep equipment locked up or in a secure building. Motion lights and video surveillance, he said, are always helpful as well.

In these recent thefts, McCarthy said most items that were successfully returned had identifying marks.

“This is good,” he said. “It’s rewarding knowing that the farmers out there won’t be victimized anymore.”

The Sheriff’s Office is requesting assistance to locate the owners of a stolen portable welder and a stolen pressure washer. Anyone with information relating to these stolen items, the cases, or other agricultural related criminal activity are advised to contact McCarthy through the Sheriff’s Office at 934-6512 or 934-6150. To leave an anonymous tip, call 681-4171.

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