(Press Release) United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced 60-year-old Ronald John Salado of Modesto, to 11 years and four months in prison for his role in a scheme to defraud almond growers and nut processors. The prison sentence is to be followed by five years of supervised release. Salado is also ordered to pay $2,025,134 in restitution to victims and to pay nearly $2.5 million in forfeiture to the United States.
Salado was convicted in November 2011 by a federal jury of conspiring to commit mail fraud and bank fraud, two counts of mail fraud, nine counts of bank fraud, and two counts of money laundering, stemming from a scheme he carried out with other industry insiders to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds of almonds and to defraud Central Valley almond growers and nut processors of money and property.
The evidence at trial showed that, from August 2000 to October 2007, Salado, along with other conspirators including Randal Burtis, Robert Adams, and Jason Espinola, conspired to steal almonds from nut growers and businesses in the nut industry, and sold the almonds under fictitious and nominee names for the benefit of Salado and the other conspirators. At times, the conspirators caused a nut processor to enter into fictitious purchases of “ghost loads” of nuts that did not actually exist. Salado and the other conspirators received payments in the fictitious and nominee names for these nut sales, negotiated many of the checks through banks using forged endorsements, and distributed the proceeds among themselves. During the scheme, Salado was the almond buyer at a nut processor in Turlock, Burtis was the general manager at a nut huller in Westley, and Adams was the plant manager at a nut processor in LeGrand. Jason Espinola participated in the conspiracy from 2000 to 2002 as a purported nominee grower.
In sentencing Salado, Judge O’Neill found that Salado was a leader of the conspiracy, that he obstructed justice through his extensive perjury at trial, that in carrying out the scheme Salado abused the position of trust he held at the nut processor at which he worked, and that Salado used sophisticated means to carry out the scheme.
“The agriculture industry is the backbone of the economy in the Central Valley, and keeping it free of fraud is critical both to that industry and to consumers.” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “As the sentence imposed in this case demonstrates, those who take advantage of their positions to rip off the agriculture industry will pay a steep price for their crimes.”
Burtis, Adams, and Espinola plead guilty and were sentenced on December 19, 2011. Burtis received a 34-month prison sentence. Adams was sentenced to 46 months in prison, and Espinola was sentenced to seven months in federal prison.
This case was the product of an extensive investigation by the IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kirk Sherriff and Stanley Boone prosecuted the case.