Surveillance video captures coffee crooks
It's been more than five months since a trio of thieves broke into a drying facility at Ka'u Coffee Mill and walked away with thousands of dollars worth of parchment.
However, the passage of time has not erased the sense of violation felt by the coffee plantation's employees and general manager John Cross.
"They should be prosecuted," Cross said of the brazen thievery. "This is the livelihood of independent farms, and it is stealing from the families of the people of Ka'u."
On Wednesday, KITV4 obtained surveillance video of one of three thefts at Ka'u Coffee Mill, which shows three individuals scooping up hundreds of pounds of unhulled coffee beans, known as parchment.
"They used burlap bags and they had everything covered on their faces," said Cross. "They knew what they were doing."
It's also clear the thieves knew security cameras were recording their every move. At one point, motion lights come on, but there's hardly a reaction.
"They did not flinch or run when those security lamps came on, so they knew exactly what they were entering and they acted with impunity," said Cross.
Cross believes the same individuals are responsible for all three thefts at the plantation over the course of a month, and he estimates the parchment pinchers got away with as much as 1,200 pounds worth up to $13,000. The case is being investigated by police as second-degree theft, punishable by up to five years in prison.
"Police have leads, to my understanding, so there are some ideas on who these individuals might be," said Cross.
Meanwhile, Phil Becker of neighboring Aikane Plantation Coffee Company was also victimized during the same time period.
"He had almost the same exact amount of parchment stolen," said Cross. "They cut through the sides of his plastic drying building and scooped it all up."
Since the rash of thefts earlier in this year, Ka'u Coffee Mill has taken steps to ensure thieves never strike again.
"We have people that are living on the property in a security house now, so if this were to happen again, I have people on-site, on premise that will be able call and get the police notified immediately," said Cross.
Additionally, Big Island prosecutor Mitch Roth is trying to create a system of checks and balances where anyone who sells coffee is required to keep records showing the origin of all coffee on the market.
"A person who has no affiliation with a farm should not be selling parchment," said Cross.
But even as Big Island coffee growers take steps to protect their crop, plantation workers are being forced to fend off thieves in broad daylight. Cross says fellow farmers have found trespassers picking coffee cherries directly off plants.
"Can you believe it that people are actually doing it in the middle of the day, picking coffee right off the trees?" Cross said incredulously.
Cross says Big Island coffee parchment is dried during a six-month period from September through March, and if thieves decide to strike again, that would be the time to do it.
"They should realize that they're stealing from their neighbors, their friends and potentially their own family members," said Cross.
Tipsters who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo or 329-8181 in Kona, and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
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