Florida police say that they have arrested several people in connection with a month-long investigation into an organized gas theft ring in the Tampa Bay area.
On Monday, April 4, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) announced that six people have been arrested as part of “Operation Empty Tank,” which involved the use of a homemade device to steal around $60,000 gallons of fuel from gas stations in and around Tampa Bay.
The investigation began on February 25 after it was discovered that $25,000 in fuel was missing from a Circle K story located at 3702 Highway 41 in Ruskin and another store at 5004 Highway 41 in Apollo Beach.
When HCSO investigators viewed surveillance footage from the gas stations, they noticed strange behavior from seven trucks that would continuously cycle through a single pump for as many as 12 hours at a time.
“Detectives with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office were called to investigate, and they quickly discovered that the suspects were breaking into the gas pump panels and installing homemade devices that disabled the pump pulsar, which calculates the cost per gallon. For pennies per gallon, or in some cases no money at all, seven suspects were able to dispense thousands of dollars in gasoline. The suspects would rotate through tampered pumps filling bladders hidden inside or in the bed of their pickup trucks, then drive the trucks to commercial lots to unload the gas into larger gasoline reservoirs before returning to the pump to continue their theft cycle. Ultimately, the suspects would sell the stolen gasoline at half the price of a gas station to independent truck drivers,” HCSO said in a news release.
Investigators learned that these seven suspects had been stealing fuel on a nearly daily basis from gas stations all over the Tampa Bay area for the past several months.
“This was very clearly an organized crime ring, and these suspects were not new to the business,” explained Sheriff Chad 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.”
On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, Operation Empty Tank concluded when HCSO, in coordination with the Florida Highway Patrol, arrested six of the seven suspects after catching them in the act. One suspect remains at large. Five of the suspects are residents of Hillsborough County and two live in Orlando.
Each suspect has been charged with Racketeering (RICO), Conspiracy to Commit RICO, Grand Theft, and Accessing Electronics Without Authority, according to HCSO, and additional charges could be forthcoming.
“We will work to make sure these individuals are prosecuted and can no longer steal what the rest of our citizens work hard for, the gasoline that they rely on every day to get to work or to take their children to school,” said Sheriff Chronister.
See the press conference below for more.