Agricultural detectives in California arrested and charged a man on a variety of charges following an investigation into a diesel fuel theft scheme.

On Wednesday, the Ag Task Force (AGTF) of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office arrested 38 year old Juan Martinez-Barajas following an investigation into reports from farmers of diesel fuel theft. He was charged with grand theft, evading police, illegal possession of a firearm, possession of armor piercing ammunition, driving on a suspended license for DUI and probation violation.

Martinez-Barajas also had an active warrant for domestic battery.

Police began investigating after farmers complained of diesel fuel theft in western Fresno County in August and September.

The AGTF learned that the suspected fuel thief may have been driving a pickup truck or riding a quad and possibly carrying an AR-15 during the thefts.

On Wednesday morning, AGTF officers were conducting surveillance at W. Phelps and S. El Dorado Avenues in Coalinga when they spotted a pickup matching the suspect vehicle description.

The pickup driver fled when officers attempted a traffic stop.

The pickup was soon found abandoned.

The AGTF called in an Air Support Unit, Drone Unit and K-9 unit and were able to locate Martinez-Barajas hiding under trees in a dry river bed.

After searching Martinez-Barajas’s vehicle, police discovered an AR-15 without a serial number.

“Detectives determined Martinez-Barajas would steal plastic containers from farmers and either haul them in a pickup truck or tow them behind an ATV. He would fill them with diesel fuel by siphoning it out of a farmer’s equipment and storage tanks. Additionally, he would paint the containers black to conceal the red-dye diesel from being seen by passing motorists. Red-dye diesel is specifically for off-road vehicles, such as farming equipment. It can be purchased at a lower price due to not being taxed like clear, highway grade diesel. Martinez-Barajas would turn around and sell the stolen diesel to truckers at about half the price one would pay at a fuel station. It is worth noting that these truckers were breaking the law as well,” the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said.

Investigators learned that Martinez-Barajas had been stealing about 800 gallons of diesel a week for the past six months. The stolen diesel is valued at around $60,000.

Bail was set for Martinez-Barajas at $185,000.

Anyone with additional information on Juan Martinez-Barajas is asked to please contact the Ag Theft Task Force at (559) 600-8150 or Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867, www.valleycrimestoppers.org.

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