Four South Valley men have been arrested on suspicion of stealing calves from dairy farms and selling the animals to unsuspecting buyers, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said Friday.
They are suspected of stealing calves and supplies from dairies for at least three or four months and were caught after a six-week investigation that included surveillance of dairies by airplane, he said.
At least two more arrests are expected, he said.
“If you are stealing livestock in Tulare County, we will put every resource available to make sure you are put behind bars,” Boudreaux said.
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“In this case, we’re just happy to see this ring is coming to an end.”
Those arrested had years of experience in dairies and used their inside knowledge to steal calves and supplies without being caught, Boudreaux said.
Sixteen calves, 156 bags of powdered milk used both to feed the stolen calves and to sell on the black market, and medication supplements such as antibiotics were recovered, he said.
“Five of these calves were located in a very small confined area with no water, and when detectives located these calves, we were very pleased in the recovery of those,” Boudreaux said.
Felony grand theft of livestock as well as animal cruelty charges are likely, officials said.
There was an “order list” for calves, medications and powdered milk at reduced prices that the alleged thieves supplied, Boudreaux said.
The dairy owners were unaware of the missing calves until later, he said. The investigation began when a dairy owner reported missing calves and supplies, he said.
In most cases, the stolen calves were raised and sold as beef cattle, although in some cases they were sold to other dairies.
The dairies that bought them did not know they were stolen, while people buying them for use as beef were more likely to know they were stolen, detectives said.
Another 18 calves reported stolen have yet to be found, Boudreaux said. Most of the calves are Jersey cows, although some have been Holsteins.
Brand inspectors helped identify the stolen calves. Some had ear tags, some had brands and some had neither.
Those arrested have been identified as Juan Ernesto Martinez, 26, and Raul Martinez, 23, of Tulare, Isidro Barojas, 30, of Lemoore, and Roberto Barojas, 42, of Hanford.