LAS VEGAS (FOX 5) -- Las Vegas police have made 25 felony arrests connected to a group of suspects stealing credit card information, purchasing hundreds of gallons of gasoline with the stolen funds and selling the fuel for profit to residential neighborhoods, police stated in a press conference Thursday. But police warn locals that the danger of these crimes “affects all of Clark County.”
In the past 18 months, authorities have noticed a trend of motorists with modified vehicles buying 100 to 300 gallons of fuel at the pump. The process means drivers at gas stations may wait anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes to fill up. According to police, suspects have designed compartmentalized vehicles with the capability of storing pumped fuel externally into tanks.
"These vehicles that were filling up with this fuel were not normal fuel trucks, not fleet construction trucks, they were modified vehicles,” Lt. Shane Womack said. “They were vans, they were pickup trucks, cars, flatbed trucks."
Surveillance techniques determined some of the suspects were transporting fuel from Southern California, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. This fuel was predominantly stolen out of state and brought back to Clark County.
“We want the public to understand how serious of a risk this is and that the transportation or storage of this fuel, even if a criminal had no intent to harm anybody and it was only for the financial crime, is going to hurt people. It’s going to cost people their lives,” Womack said.
Police are asking for the public’s help identifying offenders to prevent hazardous situations.
Several people in a northeast valley community are now on edge after Metro arrested several people conducting these illegal fuel operations.
"We don't like anyone invading our privacy here at all. These are decent people over here. So we don't care to have that sort of thing happening over here," resident Pat Ward said.
Ward has been living in the community for years, but it wasn't until recently he noticed multiple cars going in and out of one house on the block.
"Cars just coming and going here; that's not our neighborhood here," Ward said. "You know they just don't belong here and I don't know where they come from."
Modified pick-up trucks with large external containers:
- Vehicles spending significant amounts of time at the pump
- Strong smell of gas at residence
“Neighborhoods that seem perfectly normal, with kids riding bikes around, were storing thousands of gallons of fuel and were operating like a gas station at all hours of the day and night,” Womack said.
This crime trend has affected North Las Vegas, Henderson and unincorporated Clark County.
“Vapors are what burn and not the fuel,” Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Wiercinski said. “As the temperature heats up in Southern Nevada and there’s an increase of this vapor that moves out, it can find an ignition source far away from the location it’s being stored.”
If fuel is not properly stored or contained, static electricity from the ground can cause ignition. Fire officials have already responded to a handful of blazes related to fuel theft.
So far, all stolen credit cards victims have been from outside of Clark County, but authorities warn motorists to protect their information.
CREDIT CARD SAFETY TIPS
- Check that gas pump seals are not cut
- Protect your account information and PIN
- Check for hidden cameras at the pump
Anyone with information related to the fuel thieves is urged to call Crime Stoppers at (702) 385-5555.