Black market diesel sales continue across the country thanks to credit card skimmers and plenty of opportunities for easy cash.
State and federal investigators report that more and more street gangs are stealing diesel and reselling it because of steep profits and penalties that are often lighter in comparison to drug offenses.
Diesel theft rings are complicated by the fact that common trucks and vans are used to unsafely transport hundreds of gallons in hidden fuel tanks.
Diesel thefts are worst along Interstate 10, according to Texas-based Know Control owner Owen Dewitt whose company helps stations guard against fuel theft.
“It’s pretty rampant,” DeWitt said. “California and Florida are the two worst; Texas is No. 3.”
Dewitt said the rise in fuel theft is tied to an increase in credit card fraud, according to foxnews.com. Thieves continue to use credit card skimmers at fueling stations to steal account information and then duplicate that card. Older magnetic strip card readers at these stations have yet to be replaced by the newer and more secure credit card chip technology.
Because credit card skimmers play such a such a large role in diesel theft rings, it’s attracted the attention of the U.S. Secret Service.
“The crews that we’ve investigated over the past couple of years — the least profitable group is $5 million a year,” Agent Steven Scarince said. “And then there are groups that will gross $20 million plus. 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.”
A gang under investigation by agents in Los Angeles used seven pickups and SUVs with hidden fuel tanks to steal roughly $16,000 worth of diesel every day, or about $7 million a year. A tanker truck was used to transfer the fuel to gas stations where it was sold. The gang ran its black market diesel operation for about five years before agents shut it down.
At least one police officer has fallen victim to black market diesel. Last Thursday, police in Louisville, Ky. arrested 31-year-old Noslen Hernandez Guerra for creating and using fraudulent credit cards to purchase diesel. Police say Guerra used a device to create the cards using account information skimmed through card readers, according to wdrb.com.
One of his victims includes a Louisville police officer. Guerra allegedly purchased $250 worth of diesel using a fraudulent card he created using the officer’s account information. Police say Guerra transported the stolen diesel in a fuel tank located in the bed of his pickup. Guerra had been on federal probation for similar offenses in Miami.
Stealing fuel is dangerous. In Los Angeles in 2015, a man driving a box truck with 1,650 gallons of stolen diesel crashed into concrete barrier on Interstate 5. In 2014, a man’s mini-van filled with stolen fuel exploded at a gas station in Miami, according to nbcmiami.com. The man attempted to escape on foot, but was later arrested.