Editor’s Note: This article features strong adult language.
A push by a major Fresno farming family to launch a brand-new pistachio processing plant has hit a speed bump, courtesy of their former processor: Wonderful Pistachios.
It’s just the latest salvo in a brewing pistachio war.
In mid-December, the Assemi Brothers signed a settlement agreement with the County of Fresno to indemnify the county while halting construction on a massive pistachio processing plant, located in western Fresno County.
The settlement came one week after Wonderful Pistachios, the long-time processor of Assemi-grown pistachios, filed a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to halt construction of a competing processing plant.
McClatchy first reported the settlement agreement.
The agreement notes that Fresno County issued a stop work order to the Assemi Brothers in late October, more than a month before Wonderful filed its suit, after discovering that construction exceeded the permits issued to the company.
The County’s permitting, issued in September, allowed the Assemis to “to construct 49 silo foundations and to conduct associated grading only.”
Later, the County found that construction included “above-grade steel structures for which no construction permit was issued and no inspections conducted by the Department.”
As part of the agreement, the Assemi Brothers agreed to commit $250,000 in escrow to indemnify the County of Fresno for litigation arising from the plant’s construction, including the Wonderful suit.
A legal war over nuts
The Assemis and Wonderful Pistachios, owned by Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, have been locked in legal strife since September, when the Assemis filed a lawsuit claiming that Wonderful was withholding roughly $25 million in grower performance bonuses from the 2018 harvest year.
In 2018, the Assemis informed Stewart Resnick and Wonderful that they would end their 15-year relationship after the 2019 harvest.
In January 2019, Kevin Assemi, chief executive officer of the family’s Maricopa Orchards, met with Wonderful Company owner Stewart Resnick in Los Angeles.
“I am going to war with you,” Resnick purportedly told Assemi, per the suit. “I am going to do stuff to you that I would not do to other competitors because I have to make sure you are not successful with your plant.”
The Assemis’ suit characterizes Resnick as wanting to make an example of the Assemis for fellow growers.
“I am going to destroy you and make sure you fail so that no grower ever leaves and tries to make it on their own processing and marketing,” the suit alleges he said.
Last March, Wonderful hosted its 2019 growers convention at the Visalia Convention Center.
During a presentation, the suit states, Resnick announced that the Assemis would be exiting the cooperative and construct their own processing plant.
As to the Assemi family’s plans, the suit adds that Resnick told the assembled growers “he was going to ‘f*ck them.’”
As pistachio harvest revved up in late August, Wonderful’s chief of grower relations informed Kevin Assemi that the family’s operation would not receive what’s known in the Wonderful cooperative as a “Grower Partner Bonus” for its 2018 crop, despite contractual language entitling all of the Assemi suppliers that bonus, the suit states.
According to the suit, Wonderful claimed that payment of the grower bonus was “discretionary.”
With a 2019 crop valued at nearly $50 million, sources told The Sun that the Assemis various farming outfits delivered their pistachios to Los Angeles-headquartered Primex Farms.