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Four local men face fraud charges for nut scheme
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A federal grand jury has indicted four Stanislaus County men on charges they carried out a scheme that cheated local almond growers and processors out of millions of dollars.Randal Alfred Burtis, 49, of Patterson; Ronald John Salado, 58, of Modesto; Robert Morris Adams, 44, of Turlock; and Jason M. Espinola, 29, of Hughson were indicted by the grand jury on Aug. 6. Burtis, Salado, and Adams are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and bank fraud. The indictment also charges Burtis and Salado with money laundering. Espinola is charged with bank fraud.Burtis was the general manager of Westside Hulling, a cooperative, grower-owned nut hulling business. Salado was a purchaser for a Turlock nut processing company, and Adams was a plant manager for a Merced County nut processing company. According to the indictment, Burtis, Salado, and Adams used their position to steal and divert nuts from almond growers and other businesses, and sold the stolen nuts to nut processors for their own gain, according to the U.S. District’s Attorney Office. The indictment alleges that Burtis, Salado, and Adams defrauded nut growers and processors of more than $3.1 million through this scheme and carried it on from 2000 to 2007.They also caused a nut processor to enter fictitious purchases of “ghost loads” of nuts that did not actually exist. In order to carry out the scheme, the defendants used fake names, fictitious identities, and the names of actual persons whose identities were used without the persons’ knowledge or permission. The defendants received payments from the nut processors for the stolen nuts and for fictitious shipments of nuts that were never delivered.The indictment alleges that, among other false names used by Burtis, Salado, and Adams to carry out the scheme, they used the identity of a high school student who was not an almond grower and who did not grow, own, or sell nuts. The defendants used this individual’s identity without his knowledge to enter nut sales contracts and to receive payments from such sales. They are also accused of setting up bank accounts under false names.The indictment charges Espinola with bank fraud for knowingly depositing checks with forged endorsements.This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant United States Attorney Kirk Sherriff is prosecuting the case.To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.