Catfish crooks, timber thieves and truffle rustlers

Over the years, Delta Farm Press has covered rustling stories of various sorts.

Nearly 20 years ago and still incredibly green, one of my first assignments was to look into a couple of catfish crooks. What happened was a Mississippi catfish operation noticed that truck loads were turning up at the nearby processing plant significantly lighter than when they’d left.

It turned out the truck driver was meeting an accomplice on the side of the road. There, he’d scoop a few nets of fish into his fellow thief’s pickup bed and then keep driving to the processor. The accomplice took the pilfered catfish to sell across the bridge in Helena, Ark. The pair was eventually busted.

Years later, another type of thievery was even more surprising to me. Older folks, especially, were being targeted for their timber. An Arkansas forestry official said victims sometimes returned home and their trees would simply be gone. Other times, they’d agree to a patch of timber being cut but the crew would harvest much more and then high-tail it without paying.

More recently, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry said a timber thief had been charged with multiple felony counts. Trying to avoid the charges, he was nabbed trying to enter Canada from Alaska. He now sits in LaSalle Parish Detention Center on $1 million bond.

This week, I thought about those stories when reading about the trial of farmer Laurent Rambaud. The Frenchman is currently on trial for shot-gunning another man. Rambaud suspected the man he killed of stealing his truffles, which go for about $500 a pound.

On the night of the incident, Rambaud, already sick of trespassers digging up truffles on his land, had been waiting in one of the family’s groves clad in camouflage. Sure enough, Ernest Pardo, a known truffle thief, walked through the trees with his dog. Pardo carried a small pick that Rambaud insists he thought was a weapon. He shot Pardo twice out of fear, he says.

“I thought he was armed, I shot first,” Rambaud told the court. “I committed the irreparable. Even with a gun on your own land, at night you get frightened to death.”

Area farmers, incensed that he was even charged, have rallied to Rambaud’s side claiming he was only defending his livelihood. The farmers insist they must guard their truffle-producing properties from thieves all hours of the day.

Indeed, during testimony in court, the mayor of Grignan said, “Over the previous five years, there had been a clear rise in the number of thefts with professional methods.”

With the court determining the shooting wasn’t premeditated, Rambaud faces up to 30 years in prison for manslaughter.

TAGS: Aquaculture
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