Fresno authorities say they've uncovered the biggest beehive theft they've ever seen. They recovered nearly a $1 million worth of bees belonging to a dozen victims.
Sgt. Arley Terrence of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Agricultural Crimes Task Force said detectives got a tip about some stolen hives.
When they showed up at an orchard on the outskirts of town, they found 51-year-old Pavel Tveretinov in a beekeeper suit tending to a motley assortment of beehives.
"It was like a chop shop of stolen bees," Terrence said Thursday. "There were just lots and lots of different bee boxes."
In total, detectives discovered 2,500 stolen hives, which Terrence said belong to 12 different victims. Authorities believe all the bees were stolen in California over the past three years. Many belong to local beekeepers, but some hail from as far away as Montana and Missouri.
It's common for out-of-state beekeepers to truck in bees to pollinate California nut crops, which are a tidy source of revenue for the state.
Almond farming alone contributed over $7 billion to the California economy in 2014.
Terrence said Tveretinov knows the beekeeping trade. "He used that to his advantage."
Investigators believe Tveretinov worked at night, snatching truckloads of bees out of orchards they were hired to pollinate.
They said he supplemented his own hives with those he stole.
"He would move through the state using other people's bees to contract with farmers, and then collected those fees," Terrence said.
Detectives had help from what Terrence calls a close-knit Russian-Ukrainian beekeeping community in Northern California. Tveretinov is Russian-Ukranian.
"They're all familiar with each other," Terrence said of the beekeepers, "and they had suspected that he was stealing bees."
Tveretinov was arrested on April 28 on suspicion of possessing stolen property and released on $10,000 bail. He is expected to be charged with possession of stolen property and grand theft.