Bee Hive Heists

Back in 2017, The Guardian reported on the theft of a beehive believed to be home to 30,000 to 40,000 bees,

An experienced beekeeper is suspected of stealing 40,000 bees from Anglesey in one of Britain’s biggest bee rustling cases in years.

. . .

The miserably rainy summer could have ruined the thief’s own honey production and driven them to carry out the theft, one expert has suggested.

Poor weather, combined with the increased popularity of beekeeping, has also pushed up the price of a “nucleus” – a set of wooden frames plus a family of bees and a queen – from £50 to at least £200, according to Diane Roberts of the British Beekeepers Association. An experienced beekeeper is suspected of stealing 40,000 bees from Anglesey in one of Britain’s biggest bee rustling cases in years.

Apparently bee hive heists are now also a problem in the United States and Canada. According to a National Geographic story on the peculiar crime,

Cattle raiding and horse thieving were common crimes in the Wild West, but bee rustling is a relatively new offense for the lawbooks. That’s thanks in large part to the increasing necessity and profitability of trucking billions of bees to vast commercial orchards in dire need of pollination, as well as a thriving international market for gourmet honey.

“It’s the perfect crime,” said Butte County police detective Rowdy Jay Freeman, a member of the state’s Rural Crime Prevention Task Force and a commercial apiarist himself. “You see a person in a white suit, and it looks like a beekeeper, but it could be a thief too—you’d never know.”

. . .

Big bee heists are making global headlines. In April 2016, a few weeks shy of blueberry pollination season, thieves struck one of the largest family apiaries in the Canadian province of Québec. The beekeeper, Jean Marc Labonte, told reporters the crooks made off with 180 hives worth an estimated $200,000. Of two likely suspects snagged by police, one was sentenced to nine months’ probation, including five months’ house arrest, and a $40,000 fine; the other was acquitted, according to reports by the Canadian Broadcasting Companyand other outlets.

A few months later, in June, bandits absconded with some of the most valuable bees in Canada, belonging to a $7.1 million research project at the University of Laval aimed at breeding stronger honeybees resistant to some of the ailments, from mites to fungi, currently plaguing colonies around the globe.

Where there is bee hive crime, inevitably bee hive detectives will shortly follow.

Investigating bee crimes isn’t easy. “These cases are hard to crack because bees don’t have VIN numbers like cars, and we can’t track them by their DNA,” said detective Isaac Torres, a Fresno-based member of California’s rural crime prevention task force. Often the only witnesses at the crime scene would be an angry mob with stingers. Once while responding to a call, Torres’s partner, Andres Solis, got stung eight times in the head, and his face “swelled up like a balloon,” Torres said. Now Solis wears a beekeeper’s veil when investigating bee cases.

In 2017, Solis and Torres managed to crack one of the biggest hive heists in California history. For three years in a row, an unusually high number of bee crimes were reported throughout the Central Valley—200, 300, 400 hives at a time in many different locations. “We knew it had to be someone in the business,” Solis said. “They weren’t just any crooks. They really knew what they were doing.”

A few weeks after the almond bloom, the detectives investigated a report about a suspicious discovery: a vacant lot on the outskirts of Fresno with bee boxes in varied shapes, colors, and designs stacked and scattered about. At the scene, they found what appeared to be a chop shop, where boxes were being sanded, repainted, and stenciled with the name Allstate Apiaries Inc., a business operated by Pavel Tveretinov, who was on-site tending to the bees.

Officers arrested Tveretinov, a 51-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, and later an alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48. As the investigation progressed, the detectives uncovered similar operations at two other locations. They say they recovered some 2,500 hives worth $875,000.

The California State Beekeepers Association devotes a significant amount of its blog updates to announcing new hive thefts and breaks in stolen bee cases. The organization currently offers up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of bees and/or beekeeping equipment.