3 Ventura County Men Arrested on Suspicion of Grand Theft of Avocados Worth $300,000

Three employees at a produce processing facility in Ventura County were arrested this week after detectives uncovered an illegal avocado sales operation at the location, officials said Friday.

A farmer harvests avocados at an orchard in the municipality of Uruapan, Michoacan State, Mexico, on Oct. 19, 2016. (Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images)

Joseph Valenzuela, 38; Rahim Leblanc, 30; and Carlos Chavez, 28, were all taken into custody Wednesday after investigators served search warrants at their homes and the Mission Produce location where they worked, according to a statement from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Chavez and Leblanc live in Oxnard, while Valenzuela is a resident of Santa Paula.

All three worked in the company’s ripening facility on Dufau Road in an unincorporated area of Ventura County near Oxnard, deputies said.

Detectives opened an investigation at the end of May after receiving reports that employees at the location were selling avocados for cash unauthorized from the company grounds. Investigators confirmed these allegations and found the illegal enterprise had been operating for several months.

It was unclear what led detectives to tie the three suspects to the crime.

Mission Produce estimates more than $300,000 worth of avocados was lost, sheriff’s officials said.

Investigators are now probing whether the men sold the produce to customers who thought the operation was legitimate.

Anyone who purchased avocados from the Mission Produce facility on Dufau Road within the last few months is encouraged to contact Sheriff’s Detective David Boynton at 805-388-5100.