4 Stanislaus County men indicted in $3.1M almond trade scam

Grand jury claims the fraud occurred between 2000-07

August 6, 2010 

AY Almond Harvest

(ALISON YIN/ayin@modbee.com) - Four Stanislaus County men are suspected of defrauding almond growers and handlers.

A federal grand jury has indicted four Stanislaus County men on charges of taking part in a $3.1 million scheme to defraud almond growers and handlers.

The U.S. Attorney's Office took over the case from authorities in Stanislaus County, where one of the defendants was arrested in 2007, office spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said Friday.

That man, Randal Alfred Burtis, 49, of Patterson, was general manager of Westside Hulling in Westley when the fraud took place, the 27-page indictment said. The grower-owned cooperative does initial processing, then sells the nuts to other processors.

The indictment alleges that Burtis and two other defendants, who worked for other processors, diverted nuts and sold them for their own gain. They also are accused of receiving money for almonds that were never delivered.

Those other defendants are Ronald John Salado, 58, of Modesto and Robert Morris Adams, 44, of Turlock. Salado was a buyer for an unidentified processor in Turlock, the indictment said, and Adams managed an unidentified plant in Merced County.

The fourth man, Jason M. Espinola, 29, of Hughson, is accused of bank fraud for his role in depositing checks with forged endorsements.

The indictment said the fraud took place between 2000 and 2007.

Salado is in custody and is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Monday, Horwood said.

Three asked to come to court

The other three defendants have not been arrested, but have been asked to appear at the same time, she said.

None of them could be reached for comment Friday.

The indictment was handed up in Fresno on Thursday and announced by Benjamin Wagner, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of California, on Friday.

It was the result of investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, Wagner said.

Burtis, Salado and Adams were charged with bank fraud, which can bring up to 30 years in prison for each count, and mail fraud, which can bring up to 20 years, Wagner said.

Burtis and Salado also were charged with money laundering, which has a 10-year maximum sentence.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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