Now that fuel prices are approaching levels you probably never thought you’d see in your lifetime, black-market gasoline has become a thing. Local reports coming out of Nevada are claiming that thieves have begun loading up trucks with stolen gas so they can sell it at a discount. Considering the average price per gallon now exceeds $5.50 for the region, it’s easy to see why some people might be willing to roll the dice and buy discounted fuel of an unknown origin.
But the most lucrative scheme is to transport stolen gas into California, where the prices exceed $6.30 across the state. Here, thieves can sell their ill-gotten petroleum at broader margins. But it takes a special kind of vehicle and a little planning not to blow the additional profit on the trip itself. Tankers aren’t exactly easy to come by and are hardly the least-suspicious way to haul around stolen fuel, so thieves are modifying trucks and vans that can pass as light-duty vehicles.
“Unfortunately, with the rise in fuel prices, we have an increase in fuel theft,” Lt. Jeff Swanbeck, from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Financial Crimes Section, told Fox5 KVVU-TV.
Local authorities have suggested that criminal organizations are utilizing small fleets of modified utility trucks to effectively swipe as much fuel as possible during normal working hours. While this requires thieves to break the pump itself, modifying it to dole out more gasoline than intended, police suggested the vehicles themselves could encourage passersby that the unit was being serviced. In most cases, nobody seemed to notice any criminal activity until long after the trucks have been loaded with thousands of dollars in fuel and driven away.
“These thieves are very sophisticated. They will take a truck that looks just like a normal truck, like a freeway service truck, and there is intricate pipping inside them,” added Lt. Swanbeck.
One make-shift gas tanker, towing a horse trailer also filled with tanks of stolen fuel, was stopped by Metro in Jean on the way to California where the gas can be sold for more than in Nevada.
Investigators say the thieves are brazen. They steal gas in plain sight, in front of people filling up at the pump who have no idea a crime is being committed right next to them.
“They will open up the gas pump itself and there is a series of gears inside there, and they are smart enough to figure out how to manipulate the gears,” explained Lt. Swanbeck.
In some cases, the LVMPD claimed that trucks would rotate in and out for hours until they’ve managed to swipe thousands of gallons in gasoline. Though, based on some of the accompanying footage, not all of the vehicles appear to be technological marvels. Several looked to be little more than pickups with external tanks welded onto the bed. Others were cargo vans that were simply loaded up with numerous tanks connected by a series of hoses.
But several were pretty decked out, featuring pumps of their own and massive tanks hidden behind fake tool chests or within custom truck beds. One vehicle intercepted by the police had three 350-gallon tanks hidden beneath a truck topper and was towing a horse trailer that was also loaded up with stolen fuel. It was stopped on its way to California where it would have sold the precious liquid to residents for less than it could be bought at the local gas station. Criminality aside, it was an impressive feat of engineering.
Police are operating under the assumption that some fuel is being sold in Nevada, where fuel prices exceed the national average. But that most thieves will be heading to California to maximize the amount they can charge for a gallon of gasoline. Interestingly, diesel was not mentioned. With a national average of $5.72 per gallon and trucks going idle as the cost of delivering goods has started to exceed existing contracts, I’m actually surprised it didn’t make a more appetizing target.
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