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Montana beekeeper victim of massive California theft case - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Montana beekeeper victim of massive California theft case

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Investigators found nearly $1 million worth of bees in Fresno County they say they were stolen from more than half a dozen counties in California -- and in Montana. (CBS News photo) Investigators found nearly $1 million worth of bees in Fresno County they say they were stolen from more than half a dozen counties in California -- and in Montana. (CBS News photo)
Investigators say the suspect tried to paint over stolen bee boxes to make them look like his. (CBS News photo) Investigators say the suspect tried to paint over stolen bee boxes to make them look like his. (CBS News photo)
Hundreds of bee colonies stolen in this case from northern California belonged to a beekeeper from Montana. (CBS News photo) Hundreds of bee colonies stolen in this case from northern California belonged to a beekeeper from Montana. (CBS News photo)

Stolen bees are a top priority for Fresno County, California Ag Task Force as they continue to work the biggest case of bee theft they've ever seen.

Investigators discovered nearly $1 million worth of bees in Fresno County they say were stolen from more than half a dozen counties in California -- and in Montana.

"Our detectives came out to this location where they found dozens and dozens of bee hives in bee boxes," said Sgt. Arley Terrence of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. 

Madera County investigators arrested Pavel Tveretinov, 51, who has since bailed out, but as detectives discovered more and more stolen bees, Tveretinov is again wanted by Fresno County authorities.

"He was aware of other bee contractors who were placing bees out in orchards and he would go and steal them," said Sgt. Terrence.

Investigators say the bee thefts started in 2014 spanning more than half a dozen California counties and 20 different locations. Investigators say the suspect tried to paint over stolen bee boxes to make them look like his.

Hundreds of bee colonies stolen in this case from northern California belonged to a beekeeper from Montana.

"Every colony of bees that I owned except for one. So, I basically at the age of 56 had to start over from scratch. They totally put me out of business," said Lloyd Cunniff, a beekeeper from Choteau, Montana who was victimized in the case. 

Some of the victims have recovered their stolen bees, but experts say they may be of little use because of mismanagement by the suspect, and as long as bees are big money in agriculture they will continue to be a target for thieves.

There is a special district attorney in Fresno County who takes on and prosecutes AG cases like this one. In the meantime, some beekeepers are hiring private security to keep an eye on their bees at night.

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