Thieves using crazy contraptions to steal hundreds of gallons of fuel from underground tanks

Police expect theft cases to rise as prices soar

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - Soaring gas prices may hit your wallet hard, but it's welcoming news for some thieves who see an opportunity on the black market. Investigators have noticed that as gas prices go up, so do the number of people who attempt stealing hundreds of gallons of fuel from the underground tanks at gas stations.

"Typically they just park over these gas pumps, and they have these trap doors inside a van or any type of box cargo type of truck," said Det. Larry McKinnon with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

McKinnon demonstrated how easy it is for people to access the underground tanks -- it's about as easy as opening the fuel cap on a car.

What the thieves do next is when it gets really interesting.

On Tuesday, investigators say they interrupted two men using a van to pump out hundreds of gallons of fuel from a tank at a BP gas station. Pictures of the van show a hole in the bottom of the van so the men can quickly drop down a hose that is attached to an electric pump.

"The whole thing is to expedite the theft," McKinnon said.

In a matter of minutes, they can pump out hundreds of gallons of fuel into large plastic tanks stored in the van.

"While they're doing that they'll have a secondary vehicle that's actually a look-out, and that's what happened in yesterday's event," he said.

In this case, the look-out man spotted a police car, and alerted his partner in crime. McKinnon said they took off, but left their home-made pump flowing -- causing hundreds of gallons to spill.

These guys are not alone.

Two weeks ago, investigators say surveillance cameras caught Jose Linares stealing more than 200 gallons of diesel at a station in Riverview, using the same elaborate scheme.

"If you see someone suspicious and the vehicle is kind of parked at a weird looking angle over these pumps, look and see if you see a tube coming out of the bottom of these in ground tanks, and give us a call," McKinnon said.

These cases of fuel theft are not limited to Hillsborough County. McKinnon said it's happening all over the state and the country. If the thieves are successfully at stealing the fuel, they likely will sell it on the black market for a major profit.

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