Sheriff Chad Chronister briefing reporters on the conclusion of Operation Empty Tank and the arrest of six suspects linked to more than $60,000 in gasoline theft

Seven Florida Men Charged In “Operation Empty Tank” Fuel Theft Ring, Over $60K In Gas Stolen

Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.

Operation Empty Tank began on February 25, 2022. Over the course of two days, two Circle K Gas Stations, located at 3702 Highway 41 in Ruskin and 5004 Highway 41 in Apollo Beach, discovered $25,000 in fuel shortages.

After reviewing surveillance cameras, each gas station observed the same strange behavior, where a group of seven trucks would continually cycle through a single gas pump for more than 12 hours at each station.

Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
Sheriff Chad Chronister briefing reporters on the conclusion of Operation Empty Tank and the arrest of six suspects linked to more than $60,000 in gasoline theft, Credit: HCSO

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.

“Don’t think for a minute that these suspects were tampering with the gas pumps in order to ease the burden on everyday drivers,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “No. They were in this only to line their own pockets.”

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.

Through undercover investigative means, detectives discovered the suspects were stealing gasoline on a nearly daily basis from gas stations all over Tampa Bay. In searching through prior unsolved gas thefts, detectives found cases with the same suspects and trucks involved dating back several months across several counties including Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas.

“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.”

On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, Operation Empty Tank concluded when HCSO detectives, 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.

  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.
  • Through a month-long investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has taken down a crime ring responsible for the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gasoline across Tampa Bay.

Each suspect is now facing charges of Racketeering (RICO), Conspiracy to Commit RICO, Grand Theft, and Accessing Electronics Without Authority.

“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.

Additional charges could follow for more individuals linked to this investigation. Booking photos for the individuals charged in Operation Empty Tank can be found below, in addition to surveillance video and photos from the investigation.

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