Six men have been arrested on suspicion of stealing thousands of dollars in gasoline from Florida gas stations, according to authorities.
“Operation Empty Tank” concluded last week, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, with the arrests of Luis Alcade-Hernandez, Albert Aleman-Gonzalez, Nestor Flores-Rodriguez, Javier Penate-Berbe, Jesus Andres Perez-Cueto, and Danys Vazquez-Sosa. Willian Penate-Arencibia, the alleged ringleader, is still at large, according to Chronister.
The sheriff’s office said in a statement that Operation Empty Tank started in February when 2 Circle K fuel stations noticed they had $25,000 in gas shortages over 2 days.
“After reviewing surveillance cameras, each gas station observed the same strange behavior, where a group of seven trucks would continually cycle through a single gas pump for more than 12 hours at each station,” the statement said.
Investigators discovered that someone had broken into fuel pumps and installed homemade gadgets that disabled the pathway that determines the cost per gallon.
“For pennies per gallon, or in some cases no money at all, seven suspects were able to dispense thousands of dollars in gasoline,” the sheriff’s statement said.
Fuel was stolen from stations across the Tampa Bay area, according to investigators.
“While we have identified just over $60,000 in gas theft from seven documented events, we believe these men are responsible for far more money in theft due to their operation running nearly every day of the week,” Chronister said. “This was very clearly an organized crime ring, and these suspects were not new to the business.”
According to the sheriff’s office, the suspects were selling gas to truckers for half the cost.
But, according to Chronister, the men were not doing truckers a favor.
According to authorities, the six men were apprehended after detectives discovered them stealing gas. According to the sheriff’s office, they are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, grand theft, and unauthorized access to electronics. They could be charged with additional offenses.