Ingenious fuel thieves are causing alarm all over the U.S., as station owners and industry officials grapple not only with loss of revenue but danger to public safety. Besides the economic losses, officials across the country fear these potential “rolling bombs.”
In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, teams of diesel thieves are getting more daring and inventive with their methods, purloining fuel at several locations as officials struggle to find suspects.
Authorities say two- or three-man teams simply drive over fuel covers atop the underground reservoirs, stop and then open a false bottom in their vehicles. From there, they siphon thousands of dollars of fuel in only a few minutes and enjoy a nice profit when they sell the diesel fuel on the black market.
“It’s a thriving business; they sell it under market value,” said John Peach, Victory Petroleum’s vice president of operations.
Thieves sell to truck drivers or others who have fleets of diesel-powered vehicles.
In the past six months, from California to Vermont, authorities have arrested teams stealing fuel. In January, in Compton, California, sheriff’s deputies noticed a hand pulling a hose up from an underground fuel tank and closing the metal cover. The van was subsequently driven from the gas station.
Deputies stopped the van and discovered five, 55-gallon drums filled with fuel. The three suspects were arrested and held at the Century Regional Detention Facility.
Besides more than $10,000 in revenue losses for local businesses, Florida officials are concerned about the dangerous methods thieves use to steal gas. Peach spoke about the various ways an explosion can occur.
“If there’s a little spark, not only does the car blow up, but innocent bystanders would get hurt. It is very scary to think that there are cars out there with hundreds of gallons of diesel in their trunk.”
Since fall of 2013, one team of thieves in South Florida has stolen 750 gallons of diesel, and the pair has been caught on surveillance cameras. In most cases, one person goes inside a store and distracts the clerk for a few minutes while his partner in crime siphons fuel. With diesel fuel selling on average for almost $4 per gallon across the U.S., the temptation to steal it is increasing.
According to Peach, the fuel thieves brazenly return often, sometimes the same day.
Law-enforcement officials believe the thieves are part of a sophisticated ring, which has made catching suspects difficult.