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Deputies recover $1.6 million worth of ag chemical

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2007 10:00 pm

Sheriff's detectives on Thursday recovered $1.6 million worth of an agricultural chemical that was stolen more than a year earlier.

The discovery was a break in a case that was considered important enough for San Joaquin County detectives to send fliers throughout Northern California after the January 2006 theft. Called "Raptor," the highly concentrated herbicide is sprayed on alfalfa and may only be sold and used with proper permits.

"It was a cold case. I'd given up on it; I figured the stuff was out of the country," said Detective Randy Bender, with the Ag Crimes Task Force.

The 3,200 stolen gallons were half of the annual supply used throughout the western United States, Sheriff's officials said. The chemical was on a truck that parked overnight along the west Highway 99 Frontage Road between Morada and Hammer lanes.

The truck and its cargo were stolen, but the culprit apparently didn't make it too far.

"Permit materials are permitted for two reasons. One, they're dangerous. Two, it can't be resold easily," Bender added.

The chemical had apparently been stored since February 2006, a month after the theft, in a storage space at Tiger Self Storage on Alder Avenue in Sacramento.

A woman bought the storage unit's contents during a public lien sale, and she then contracted with two men to sell the herbicide for her, Bender said.

The men contacted a crop duster in Chico to see if he was interested in purchasing the chemical. That man remembered seeing fliers and notices regarding the theft that had been distributed through the agricultural community, Bender said.

The Chico crop duster contacted a Raptor representative in his area, who contacted the corporate office. They, in turn, contacted Bender.

The cargo container was one of only two shipped that year and was bound for Fresno when it was stolen.

Six ounces of Raptor are required to treat an entire acre. The chemical retails at $500 a gallon, Bender said, meaning that 3,200 gallons have a value of $1.6 million.

The chemical is not flammable but is hazardous enough that it needs permits.

No arrests have been made but Bender is still investigating. The California Highway Patrol, which handled the vehicle and cargo theft, will likely help in the investigation, he said.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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