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A Riverside man who has described himself as "the Jesse James of the beehive industry" is accused of stealing and damaging bees and equipment from two Murrieta beekeepers, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to the pair, a new lawsuit alleges. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is also named as an accomplice in the theft, according to Courthouse News Service.

David Allred is the first person in California to be sentenced to prison for bee-related crimes, after a 1976 incident in which he used stolen trucks to make off with $10,000 worth of beehives. He's also been convicted of the theft of 400 hives in Colton and of felony vandalism for poisoning 600 hives belonging to a competitor in Oxnard.

Allred later reported to Markel Insurance Company that 120 of his hives had been stolen; he was compensated over $23,000, and an agreement was made to sell the hives back to him at a steep discount if they were ever recovered.

A year later, beekeepers Jeffrey Olney and Gary Manning found the cut lock to the gate of their bee farm and 150 hives missing. The pair reportedly suspected Allred.

“[W]hile he was engaged in this theft, Allred observed that some of the bee boxes and frames that he had used and branded many years ago, before selling them off, were now being used by plaintiffs," the complaint states.

Sheriff's deputies were unaware of these facts when contacted by Allred, who accused Olney and Manning of stealing the bees and equipment he'd received the insurance settlement for.

Without researching Allred's claim or his criminal past, Sgt. Steven Grassel reportedly accompanied Allred back to the farm, where they confiscated at least one box bearing Allred's trade markings as evidence of the alleged theft. Grassel then contacted the insurance company, offering to seize the bees and equipment while an investigation was conducted. Insurer Markel agreed and asked the sheriff's department to turn the seized bees over to Allred for safekeeping.

Deputies then returned to Olney’s and Manning's farm with Allred, who then "took as many bees, bee boxes, pallets and other equipment as they could load on to two trucks, without regard to whether the equipment bore the brands of the equipment purportedly stolen from Allred," the complaint alleges; it also accuses Grassel of failing to inventory any of the seized assets.

After three months (and upon discovery of Allred's multiple prior convictions), the sheriff's department concluded that none of the equipment in Olney’s and Manning's possession had actually been stolen from Allred, and it, along with the bees, were ordered returned. Neither the bees nor the hives were returned in the condition in which they had been seized, the pair claims.

"Significant amounts of equipment were missing, damaged or outright replaced with other lesser quality equipment. Plaintiffs' live and healthy bee hives were replaced with dead or empty boxes, with trays removed and replaced. Many of the boxes and trays that defendants returned to plaintiffs were infected with wax moths, which are deadly to bee hives and must be destroyed immediately or else they will spread into other hives."

Olney and Manning say their business was set back three years and nearly failed as a result of Allred's false claims, Markel's decision to release their seized property to Allred, and the sheriff's failure to properly investigate before assisting in the seizure. Failing to meet contractual obligations to supply bees to pollinate a farm cost Olney and Manning $360,000 in just one of a host of incidents related to the snafu. The pair seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

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