FRESNO, Calif. – Two California men have been charged with a string of felony counts stemming from a criminal case that created a buzz among beekeepers across the country, authorities said Thursday.
The men charged with possessing more than 1,200 stolen beehives could each spend more than a decade in jail if convicted, the Fresno County District Attorney's Office said.
The case stems from a tip in April that led investigators to Pavel Tveretinov, 51, and Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, at work among stacks of mismatched beehives on a field outside Fresno.
Bees are a key part of the agriculture industry in California, the nation's most productive farming state. Beekeepers from around the country truck in their beehives and rent them to farmers to pollinate their flowering crops, such as almonds.
Investigators have said the beehives had been stolen during the night over more than two years from orchards in several California counties. The victims were beekeepers as far away as Missouri, Montana and North Dakota.
The two Sacramento-area men are charged with nine felony counts of receiving stolen property.
While announcing the break in the case in May, Fresno County Sheriff's investigators said they had netted 2,500 stolen beehives valued at nearly $1 million.
Charges filed by prosecutors on Thursday, however, estimate 1,200 beehives valued at $200,000. Prosecutors based their charges on the reports they received from investigators, said Geri Benavides, a spokeswoman for the office.
An attorney representing Yeroshenko could not be reached by The Associated Press for comment. Authorities have issued a warrant seeking his arrest.
Defense attorney Andrew Kalnoki dismissed the validity of the case filed against Tveretinov, who was booked into jail with bail set at $267,750.
"The charges have no factual or legal basis," Kalnoki said. "We are going to put forth a very vigorous defense."