MURRIETTA, Calif. (CN) - The Riverside County sheriff's deputies helped "the Jesse James of the beehive industry" rustle thousands of dollars worth of bees and equipment from two bee farmers, the men claim in court.
Jeffrey Olney and Gary Manning sued the Sheriff's Department, David Allred, Markel Insurance Company and Schifrin, Gagnon & Dickey, Inc. on claims of conversion, trespass, interference, and civil rights violations, in Riverside County Court.
Allred has a long history of bee crimes in California, according to the lawsuit.
"He has described himself publicly as the 'Jesse James of the beehive industry.' He is the first person in the State of California to be sent to prison for bee-rustling, arising out of his 1976 theft of $10,000 worth of beehives and use of stolen trucks to transport them. His other bee-related crimes include a conviction of possession of stolen property involving the theft of nearly 400 hives in Colton, California and a conviction of felony vandalism arising from the poisoning of more than 600 hives of a competitor in Oxnard, California. The most basic investigation by the Sheriff's Department would have revealed this information, all of which is a matter of public record and has been reported in the news media," the complaint states.
In this case, Olney and Manning say, Allred reported that 120 of his hives had been stolen, along with boxes, frames and pallets. He subsequently received $23,480 from an insurance claim with Markel, according to the complaint.
"Allred then reached an agreement with Markel that if Markel ever recovered Allred's bees and equipment, they would sell it back to Allred at a 'much discounted rate.' Thus, Allred had motive to 'find' his purportedly stolen bees and equipment," the lawsuit states.
Nearly a year later, Olney and Manning say, they discovered that the lock on the gate to their bee farm had been cut and 150 hives stolen. They believed Allred was responsible. "(W)hile he was engaged in this theft, Allred observed that some of the bee boxes and frames that he had used and branded many years ago, before selling them off, were now being used by plaintiffs," the complaint states.
Allred then reported to the sheriff's department and to Markel that Olney and Manning were the ones who had stolen his equipment, according to the complaint.
Sheriff's Sgt. Steven Grassel and Allred then entered Olney and Manning's property without legal consent and removed at least one box as alleged evidence that the two bee farmers had stolen Allred's equipment, according to the complaint.
Grassel contacted Markel to ask if the insurance company would like to seize the bees and equipment until the investigation was complete, which Markel agreed to, asking for the property to be given to Allred for safekeeping, the lawsuit states.
Without permission or a warrant, Grassel went back to Olney and Manning's bee farm with Beaton and Allred, who "took as many bees, bee boxes, pallets and other equipment as they could load on to two trucks, without regard to whether the equipment bore the brands of the equipment purportedly stolen from Allred," the complaint states.
Olney and Manning say that Grassel allowed Allred to take the bees and equipment without conducting an inventory of the property.
"[N]o investigation was conducted into Allred's background and his claim that his bees had been stolen before Riverside County Sheriff's Department took the property of plaintiffs and gave it to Allred. Riverside County Sheriff's Department saw that plaintiffs were previously convicted of felonies, and presumed based on their criminal history that they must again be guilty. They took Allred at his word and aided and abetted in Allred's theft of plaintiffs' bees and equipment. In other words, Riverside County Sheriff's Department acted as accessories to a crime," the complaint states.
Only after allowing Allred to take control of Olney and Manning's bees and equipment did the sheriff's department look into Allred's background, the lawsuit states.
Allred stole Olney and Manning's queen bees, failed to feed and care for the rest of the bees, and replaced live and healthy bee hives and boxes with empty and infected frames and dilapidated equipment, according to the lawsuit.
Nearly three months after allowing the property to be seized, the sheriff's department concluded that Olney and Manning did not own any of Allred's stolen bees or equipment and returned their property, the complaint states.
"Significant amounts of equipment were missing, damaged or outright replaced with other lesser quality equipment. Plaintiffs' live and healthy bee hives were replaced with dead or empty boxes, with trays removed and replaced. Many of the boxes and trays that defendants returned to plaintiffs were infected with wax moths, which are deadly to bee hives and must be destroyed immediately or else they will spread into other hives," the complaint states.
Olney and Manning say their bee business was set back at least three years and nearly destroyed. They were not able to meet their contracts for supplying bees for pollinating farms, which in one case caused them a loss of $360,000, they say.
They seek compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented by Frank Marchetti of Pasadena.