Alberto Andrade, Anthony Santella and Rigoberto Avila (l-r)
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY — As if being a farmer wasn’t challenging enough — considering the cost of equipment, labor, seed, pesticides, and California’s apparently endless drought — they’re even plagued by losses at the hands of common thieves.
Because so many supplies and valuable pieces of equipment are often used and left unguarded in rural areas where their theft can go undetected for days or even weeks, farms are easy targets and come under an area of special interest for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Rural Crimes Unit.
It was that dedicated group of deputies and detectives, working in concert with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Rural Crimes Unit which for the past five months has been tracking down those responsible for nearly $38,000 in purloined agricultural equipment and supplies gone missing from a number of the region’s ranches and farms.
According to Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover, a cache of stolen equipment “was discovered in two Santa Maria storage lockers” in December 2015.
Pursuant to that discovery, detectives researched more than twenty situations involving farms and ranches throughout the Santa Maria Valley reporting significant thefts of equipment and agricultural chemicals.
Additionally, there were multiple construction site operations reporting similar thefts of tools and supplies during the same time period. A wide range of materials described by Hoover as including “water pumps, generators, agricultural chemicals, hand tools, strawberry starter plants, weed eaters” and other gear were among those items recovered and identified as stolen.
As it happened, however, the majority of theft victims had marked their equipment with serial numbers and the names of their business operations, which allowed deputies to identify the property as stolen and for it to be returned to its rightful owners.
The five-month investigation led detectives to identify and arrest five individuals on a variety of charges. Hector Ramirez, 36 of Santa Maria was booked on grand theft and multiple counts of possession of stolen property and conspiracy; Alberto Andrade, a 33-year-old transient formerly of Cambria, was booked on four counts of commercial burglary, two counts of grand theft, two counts of possession of stolen property, and conspiracy; Rigoberto Avila, 22 of Santa Maria, was booked on grand theft, possession of stolen property, and conspiracy; Anthony Santella, 30 of Santa Maria, was booked on commercial burglary and conspiracy; Marcos Adame, 22 of Santa Maria, was booked on possession of stolen property and conspiracy.
Photos: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Jail Booking