TAMPA, Fla. - The surging gas prices have made fuel a prime target for thieves, officials say, and Hillsborough authorities just took an organized theft ring, arresting multiple people in the process.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said their investigation began in February after the agency received a phone call about two Circle K gas stations with "tremendous fuel discrepancies." He said by the end of the investigation, a total of seven suspects were identified, one of which may have fled to Cuba.
The other six were booked into county jail over the weekend.
Chronister said detectives responded to the initial report, saying they began combing through surveillance footage and noticing a pattern of 7 separate trucks at both locations.
"These individuals would defeat the lock mechanism and remove the pulsar device," Sheriff Chronister explained, adding that those devices are used to calculate the gallons that are pumped. "They would remove that device and insert their own homemade device. They were able to pump that fuel into large bladders"
Hillsborough detectives said at least $60,000 worth of gas was stolen.
"What were they doing with the fuel? They would take it to two different sites-- one of them by the Tampa International Airport and one by the Orient Road Jail," the sheriff said. "[They were] vacant lots to keep trucks."
There, they would sell the gas immediately, Chronister said, charging up to $3 per gallon.
"These thieves saw this as an opportunity to sell this fuel to the bulk fuel site," he said. "Realize that corporate becomes the victim but all of us feeling the sting from the fuel increase, we become the victims because this corporation has to recover their losses."
Chronister continued, "Here in the Tampa Bay, we'll be paying higher fuel prices because these thieves saw an opportunity to take advantage of others during a time when we're already feeling the pain and strain."
The sheriff said the suspects may be connected to other fuel discrepancies at gas stations in nearby counties.