For eight months investigators cataloged a gang of six who used scanners to steal credit card numbers from fuel pumps, then used those cards to fill up large fuel bladders and re-sell the gas at a discounted price at a Southwest Miami-Dade farm.
But it wasn’t until police moved in for the bust that they discovered the real extent of the alleged criminal enterprise: Illegally sold fuel, hard-fighting fowl and stalks of weed.
Police believe the group illegally purchased and sold possibly thousands of gallons of fuel, that they grew 25 marijuana plants with an estimated street value over $100,000, and that they owned more than 100 game fowl, several of which were used in a cockfighting ring found at one of the properties.
One of the suspects told police that the ring was to train the roosters to fight before shipping them off to Puerto Rico.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“It was all about identifying the fuel farm and everything else was just sort of stumbled on,” said Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta.
For instance, police said, when law enforcement obtained an arrest warrant for Emelina Rosell and went to her home at 12271 SW 46th St., they found a cockfighting ring adjacent to the house. They also found three roosters “with injuries consistent with that of animal baiting,” Rosell’s arrest affidavit said.
Also on the property: Three gaming machines, a covered outdoor kitchen with commercial-size cooking pots, a portable bathroom and a vending machine with beer and soda. On the same property they found plastic spurs, fighting muffs and scales.
But it was the fuel farm at that same location that originally caught the eye of detectives. The way the scam is alleged to have worked is fairly simple: The group used something called a skimmer to record credit cards at fuel pumps. Then using cards with those numbers they’d return with tankers with bladders that often held more than 125 gallons at a time and fill them up, paying with the fake cards.
Then the fuel would be driven to the farm on Southwest 46th Street, and word would get out that another shipment of cheap gas had arrived. Customers would come by and pay cash. When the gas ran out, they’d do it all over again.
Police used video surveillance from gas stations to study the scam. Zabaleta said the group used several different gas stations. None of them was named in the arrest affidavits. The six suspects were arrested Thursday.
Besides Rosell, 36, those arrested were Jose Aguila, 48; Pedro Ricardo Aguila, 53; Hector Rodriguez Vasallo, 49; Yuriel Perez, 38; and Jorge Abreu-Padron, 52. The charges range from organized scheme to defraud and credit card counterfeiting, to illegal gambling, possessing an illegal tanker and illegally possessing, baiting and breeding animals.