Grand theft beehive probably won’t ever make it as a movie or video game franchise – but it is nonetheless a serious problem in the agriculture stronghold of California.

The arrest of a Sacramento man last month for possession of 100 stolen hives turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg of a massive beehive theft operation.

A Fresno County agriculture task force officer arrested Pavel Tveretinov, 51, on May 22 after an investigation that began in cooperation with Madera County in April, according to a Fresno County Sheriff’s Department report. Tveretinov is being held at the Fresno County Jail in lieu of a $267,000 bond on 10 felony counts of possession of stolen property.

A warrant has been issued for another suspect, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, 48, of Antelope, who is scheduled for arraignment July 10.

Photo courtesy of Fresno County Sheriff's Department

Since Tveretinov’s arrest, an additional 2,500 hives (approximately) valued at about $875,000 have been recovered and detectives believe he stole them as well. The recovered hives belonged to beekeepers from as far away as Missouri and Montana.

The case is the biggest bee theft Fresno County has seen, said Tony Botti, spokesman for Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.

Pollination is big business, with honey bees contributing nearly $20 billion to the value of United States crop production, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.

In California, bees are in big demand, particularly for crops like almonds. The almond industry needs about 1.8 million colonies of honey bees to pollinate almost 1 million acres of California almond orchards.

American beekeepers manage an estimated 2.7 million colonies, “two-thirds of which travel the country each year pollinating crops and producing honey and beeswax,” according to information posted on the American Beekeeping Federation site.