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Jury finds nut schemer guilty of fraud, money laundering

POSTED November 15, 2011 9:16 p.m.

A former almond buyer at a Turlock nut processing plant was convicted on multiple charges tied to a long-term scheme to defraud local processors.

After a two week trial a federal grand jury convicted Ronal John Salado, 59, of Modesto for conspiring to commit mail fraud and bank fraud, two counts of mail fraud, nine counts of bank fraud, and two counts of money laundering.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, Salado carried out a scheme 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 conspirators 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 names for their own benefit.

At times, the conspirators caused a nut processor to enter into fictitious purchases of “ghost loads” of nuts that did not actually exist, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Salado and the other conspirators received payments in the fictitious 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.

Burtis pleaded guilty on June 24, to conspiring to commit mail fraud and bank fraud. Adams pleaded guilty on Aug. 29, to the conspiracy. Espinola pleaded guilty on July 21, to bank fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 19.

After the verdict was read Salado was remanded into custody because he was deemed a flight risk and because he had committed perjury in his testimony at trial.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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