Beware at the pump: Black market fuel is making millions - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Beware at the pump: Black market fuel is making millions

Posted: Updated:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A black market for diesel and gasoline has rapidly spread around the nation, with organized crime gangs using fraudulent credit cards to syphon millions of dollars in fuel from gas stations into large tanks hidden inside pickup trucks and vans.
    
Stealing fuel can be less risky than selling drugs or other illegal endeavors, and criminals can make $1,000 or more a day re-selling the stolen fuel at construction sites and unscrupulous gas stations, or to truckers looking to cut costs, investigators and industry experts say.
    
"It's pretty rampant," said Owen DeWitt, whose Texas-based company, Know Control, focuses solely on helping gas stations prevent fuel theft. He said the crime is worst along Interstate 10, from Jacksonville, Fla., to the Los Angeles area. "California and Florida are the two worst; Texas is No. 3."
    
Black market diesel started becoming a big business when credit card "skimmers" became more prevalent around 2006, DeWitt said. Thieves install these devices at gas station pumps, where they record card information as unsuspecting customers fuel up. The information is later transferred to a magnetic strip on a counterfeit card. The problem has only grown as the devices become more sophisticated.
    
The black market has grown quickly in part because the thefts total a few hundred dollars at a time, and prosecutors were slow to prioritize them. But as fuel thefts become more organized, they have caught the attention of state and federal authorities around the country.
    
Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam's department takes the lead on prosecuting these crimes in Florida. He said they used to be considered a "victimless" or "slap-on-the-wrist-type crime, and yet they were making more money doing this than a lot of other criminal activities that had a lot higher sentences."
    
The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes, is involved because the gangs use credit card skimmers. Agent Steve Scarince says Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are hot spots, together accounting for about 20 million gallons a year in stolen diesel.
    
"The crews that we've investigated over the past couple of years - the least profitable group is $5 million a year. And then there are groups that will gross $20 million plus," Scarince said. "The gang-bangers in Los Angeles have been migrating to financial crimes instead of street crimes because it's much more profitable and if you get caught, you get probation."
    
Court records from a single Secret Service case prosecuted in 2014 illustrate how much money even a small crew can take in.
    
Agents in the Los Angeles area surveilled a group with seven pickup trucks and SUVs with hidden fuel tanks holding up to 300 gallons each. For 10 months, they observed drivers using credit card information stolen from about 900 people to fill up three times a day. They transferred the diesel into a 4,500-gallon industrial fuel tanker that made daily runs to sell the fuel to gas stations.
    
Agents estimated they stole close to $16,000 in fuel every day, with the potential to steal $7 million a year. Records indicated it was in operation for about five years before agents shut it down.
    
"Theft has been involved with fuel for as long as retailers have been selling fuel," said Jeff Lenard, a vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, Virginia, but today's criminals are "trying to steal hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons."
    
Thieves often use dozens of fraudulent cards at a time, inserting one after another to fill up hidden tanks. One gang used fraudulent credit cards for a month to steal $100,000 in diesel from two stations in central Florida. In other cases, one thief parks a truck to block the clerk's view while another pumps diesel directly from an underground tank through a hole in the vehicle's floorboards, investigators say.
    
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has pursued sellers of black market fuel for breaking state motor fuel tax evasion laws, securing some stiff sentences: In 2015 alone, his office worked to indict more than 100 suspected motor fuel thieves. A Gorman, Texas, man got 40 years in 2015, and a Haskell, Texas, man was sentenced to 10 years last August.
    
There are ways of foiling these thieves, including security devices that can shut down a pump if someone tampers with it. It's an expensive arms race, but in addition to the economic impact, there are safety concerns.
    
In 2014, a convicted fuel thief's van exploded as he filled a secret tank in Miami-Dade County. In 2015, a man driving a truck carrying 1,650 gallons of stolen diesel led police on a high-speed chase, weaving in and out of traffic on Interstate 5 before crashing into a highway barrier.
    
"God forbid that hits a school bus with a bunch of kids on it," said Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Petroleum and Convenience Store Association. "A car full of that much fuel is like a bomb going down the street."

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Most Popular

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Major flooding now expected for Great Falls

    Major flooding now expected for Great Falls

    Wednesday, June 20 2018 2:36 PM EDT2018-06-20 18:36:13 GMT
    Wednesday, June 20 2018 6:15 PM EDT2018-06-20 22:15:22 GMT

    The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Great Falls. The Missouri River is expected to crest at 17 feet, a height that matches the historic crest of 1953, as early as the afternoon on Thursday, June 20th, and is expected to last at least into late Friday, June 21st. If you live on or near Woodland Estates Road and the Country Club area of Great Falls, prepare for flooding now.

    The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Great Falls. The Missouri River is expected to crest at 17 feet, a height that matches the historic crest of 1953, as early as the afternoon on Thursday, June 20th, and is expected to last at least into late Friday, June 21st. If you live on or near Woodland Estates Road and the Country Club area of Great Falls, prepare for flooding now.

  • Victim identified in deadly motorcycle crash on Shiloh Rd.

    Victim identified in deadly motorcycle crash on Shiloh Rd.

    Saturday, June 16 2018 8:22 AM EDT2018-06-16 12:22:12 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 8:16 PM EDT2018-06-20 00:16:53 GMT

    A 30-year-old man was killed in a motorcycle crash late Friday night.  

    A 30-year-old man was killed in a motorcycle crash late Friday night.  

  • Roads closed as flooding hits Augusta

    Roads closed as flooding hits Augusta

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 10:43 AM EDT2018-06-19 14:43:07 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 8:27 PM EDT2018-06-20 00:27:45 GMT

    AUGUSTA - Flooding is being reported on Main Street in Augusta and along US Highway 287 at mile marker 38.  The National Weather Service in Great Falls is reporting 8-12 inches of running water across these areas.   Water is getting extremely close to entering businesses in the are as well.  You're asked to use extreme caution if traveling there.  We'll continue to update this story as more information becomes available. 

    AUGUSTA - Flooding is being reported on Main Street in Augusta and along US Highway 287 at mile marker 38.  The National Weather Service in Great Falls is reporting 8-12 inches of running water across these areas.   Water is getting extremely close to entering businesses in the are as well.  You're asked to use extreme caution if traveling there.  We'll continue to update this story as more information becomes available. 

  • Result are in! It's a wolf!

    Result are in! It's a wolf!

    Monday, June 18 2018 12:02 PM EDT2018-06-18 16:02:06 GMT
    Monday, June 18 2018 12:02 PM EDT2018-06-18 16:02:06 GMT
    Image Courtesy KXLOImage Courtesy KXLO
    Image Courtesy KXLOImage Courtesy KXLO
    The mysterious creature that captivated the nation after it was shot and killed near Denton in May has been identified. Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks says the animal is, in fact, a wolf. The carcass was sent to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Oregon. After comparing the DNA to thousands of samples from wolves, coyotes, and dogs and concluded it was a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains.  FWP says the original pictures of ...
    The mysterious creature that captivated the nation after it was shot and killed near Denton in May has been identified. Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks says the animal is, in fact, a wolf. The carcass was sent to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Oregon. After comparing the DNA to thousands of samples from wolves, coyotes, and dogs and concluded it was a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains.  FWP says the original pictures of ...
  • Update: Woman rescued, 13 people still stranded in Wilderness

    Woman rescued, 13 people still stranded in Wilderness

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 12:38 AM EDT2018-06-19 04:38:13 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 9:07 PM EDT2018-06-20 01:07:43 GMT

    A woman walking near Hauser Dam has been rescued after weather and slippery conditions caused her to get lost.  According to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, the woman is safe and uninjured. Her identity has not yet been released. As of 10:30 Monday evening, authorities were taking the woman back to her vehicle.  At the same time, a group of 13 people lost their way in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs say the group got stuck on the s...

    A woman walking near Hauser Dam has been rescued after weather and slippery conditions caused her to get lost.  According to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, the woman is safe and uninjured. Her identity has not yet been released. As of 10:30 Monday evening, authorities were taking the woman back to her vehicle.  At the same time, a group of 13 people lost their way in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs say the group got stuck on the s...

  • NewsMore>>

  • Death ruled accidental in Milk River drowning

    Death ruled accidental in Milk River drowning

    Monday, June 18 2018 6:17 PM EDT2018-06-18 22:17:31 GMT
    Wednesday, June 20 2018 5:53 PM EDT2018-06-20 21:53:29 GMT

    The body of a missing Chinook man has been found. According to Blaine County Sheriff Glen Huestis, the body of Noah Hofeldt was found Sunday evening around 5:30pm by volunteers floating the Milk River searching for Hofeldt.  Sheriff Huestis says they believe Hofeldt went missing as early as Monday, June 11th.  It is still unclear what led to the death, but foul play is not suspected. Hofeldt's body is being sent to Billings Tuesday morning for an autopsy. Until then, Sheri...

    The body of a missing Chinook man has been found. According to Blaine County Sheriff Glen Huestis, the body of Noah Hofeldt was found Sunday evening around 5:30pm by volunteers floating the Milk River searching for Hofeldt.  Sheriff Huestis says they believe Hofeldt went missing as early as Monday, June 11th.  It is still unclear what led to the death, but foul play is not suspected. Hofeldt's body is being sent to Billings Tuesday morning for an autopsy. Until then, Sheri...

  • Update: Woman rescued, 13 people still stranded in Wilderness

    Woman rescued, 13 people still stranded in Wilderness

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 12:38 AM EDT2018-06-19 04:38:13 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 9:07 PM EDT2018-06-20 01:07:43 GMT

    A woman walking near Hauser Dam has been rescued after weather and slippery conditions caused her to get lost.  According to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, the woman is safe and uninjured. Her identity has not yet been released. As of 10:30 Monday evening, authorities were taking the woman back to her vehicle.  At the same time, a group of 13 people lost their way in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs say the group got stuck on the s...

    A woman walking near Hauser Dam has been rescued after weather and slippery conditions caused her to get lost.  According to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, the woman is safe and uninjured. Her identity has not yet been released. As of 10:30 Monday evening, authorities were taking the woman back to her vehicle.  At the same time, a group of 13 people lost their way in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs say the group got stuck on the s...

  • Fishing access sites closed due to high water

    Fishing access sites closed due to high water

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 2:17 PM EDT2018-06-19 18:17:37 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 2:17 PM EDT2018-06-19 18:17:37 GMT
    CASCADE COUNTY - Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks has implemented closure of 2 fishing access sites due to flooding on the Sun River The Medicine River FAS and the Fort Shaw FAS are closed until further notice. FWP says they'll stay that way until the area can be cleaned up and deemed safe.
    CASCADE COUNTY - Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks has implemented closure of 2 fishing access sites due to flooding on the Sun River The Medicine River FAS and the Fort Shaw FAS are closed until further notice. FWP says they'll stay that way until the area can be cleaned up and deemed safe.
  • Governor requests aid from FEMA

    Governor requests aid from FEMA

    Monday, June 18 2018 5:51 PM EDT2018-06-18 21:51:13 GMT
    Monday, June 18 2018 5:51 PM EDT2018-06-18 21:51:13 GMT
    HELENA - Monday afternoon Governor Steve Bullock put in an official request to FEMA to provide additional resources back to Montana to help clean up and recover from the widespread spring flooding. If approved the money would be used to repair damaged roads, culverts, and bridges. Since April more than 20 counties, 8 cities, and 3 tribes have all declared emergencies. Then in May the Governor declared a statewide flooding emergency, however, state law requires that it expire in 20 ...
    HELENA - Monday afternoon Governor Steve Bullock put in an official request to FEMA to provide additional resources back to Montana to help clean up and recover from the widespread spring flooding. If approved the money would be used to repair damaged roads, culverts, and bridges. Since April more than 20 counties, 8 cities, and 3 tribes have all declared emergencies. Then in May the Governor declared a statewide flooding emergency, however, state law requires that it expire in 20 ...
Powered by Frankly
Copyright - All content © 2001 - 2018. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.