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Hillsborough deputies leave gas criminals with an empty tank

Posted at 12:22 PM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-04 18:08:57-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A month-long investigation from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office resulted in the takedown of an alleged crime ring responsible for stealing at least $60,000 worth of gasoline across the Tampa Bay area.

The investigation, called "Operation Empty Tank," found suspects were breaking into gas pump panels and installing homemade devices to disable the pump pulsar. The pulsar calculates the cost per gallon at the pump.

According to the sheriff's office, the suspects would dispense thousands of dollars in gasoline for pennies on the dollar and in some cases, for free. The suspects would then fill bladders in the bed of their pickups and drive away to unload into large reservoirs.

They would then continue the cycle and sell the stolen gasoline at half the price to independent truck drivers. Detectives said they found the suspects were stealing gasoline from stations across the Tampa Bay area.

“This was very clearly an organized crime ring, and these suspects were not new to the business,” explained Sheriff Chronister. “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.”

The sheriff's office, along with the Florida Highway Patrol, arrested six of the seven suspects after catching them in the act last Wednesday. One remains at large.

The suspects face charges that include racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, grand theft, and accessing electronics without authority. The sheriff's office said more charges may be forthcoming.