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3 Arrested in $300,000 Avocado Theft

Three men were arrested earlier this week in Ventura County for theft of up to $300,000 worth of avocados, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. All three men worked at a ripening facility in Oxnard owned by the Mission Produce company. 

The demand for avocados has been growing steadily over the past couple years. In 2015, California exported $25 million worth of avocados, according to the UC Davis Center for Agricultural Issues. Mission Produce is one of the largest avocado distributors worldwide, and has facilities in China, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.

According to the company's president, Steve Barnard, avocados are grown in California, Mexico, New Zealand, and Chile; and a box sells for around $50. Barnard said that the men involved in the theft took pallets and boxes of avocados from the facility and sold them from the back door of the distribution center.

The men had been working at Mission Produce in Oxnard for several years when the facility changed its distribution pattern - previously, customers would pick up avocados directly from the facility. Mission Produce then began delivering pallets of avocados to customers instead. When unaware customers continued to go to the facility to pick up shipments, Carlos Chavez, Rahim Leblanc, and Joseph Valenzuela began taking boxes from the facility, selling to customers for $20 to $30 a box, and pocketing the cash.

Management was tipped off by customers who noticed something wasn't right. The facility's bookkeepers realized the books were short, and when Barnard looked at surveillance footage he realized what was going on. All three suspects remain in Ventura County jail with bail set at $250,000. The loss of the stolen avocados was covered by insurance. 

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