It was an elaborate scheme that began with stolen credit cards and stolen identities, police say.
That information is then used to buy large quantities of gas that is stored in vans rigged with what police call “fuel bladders.”
The gas is then sold on the black market for about half of the pump price, meaning the seller makes pure profit.
On Wednesday, Miami-Dade police’s Economic Crimes unit along with the Secret Service and Medley police busted more than a dozen people and seized 11 vehicles as part of Operation Fill ‘Er up — an effort to thwart the scheme. Police also found 156 stolen credit cards.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It’s criminally wrong on so many levels,” said Miami-Dade police spokesman Lee Cowart. “It is not safe. It’s a public safety issue.”
This is a problem authorities have been tackling for more than two years. In January, the Miami Herald chronicled the growing problem of illegal fuel trucks. As of January, the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office prosecuted at least 31 Miami men in separate cases dealing with illegal fuel tanks.
In February, 11 people were charged with fueling the black market gas operation.
According to police, people outfit vans to look normal on the outside, yet hold dozens of gallons of gas inside.
For Wednesday’s operation, authorities arrested 11 people at 12321 NW 154th St. — a drop-off location.
Once the gas is sold by the drivers, the buyer turns around and sells it, adding 50 cents above what was paid.
Cowart said the operation ends up impacting everyone — not only by leading to higher fuel costs, but also through the potential dangers.
“It’s basically a bomb driving down the road,” he said. “It would take one spark to set it off.”