Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Suspects Held In Diesel, Gas Theft
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Under cover of darkness, police say, Mark Hogan would park his box trailer over gas stations' underground tanks, open a secret compartment and pump thousands of gallons of gas out of the ground.
Police say he then sold the fuel for $1.75 a gallon for unleaded and $2.50 for diesel.
"He's lucky that he didn't blow himself up," Police Chief Ray Schultz said Tuesday. "This was an explosion waiting to happen."
Police suspect Hogan of stealing at least 40,000 gallons of fuel.
He is one of two men now in custody whom police are investigating in the widespread theft of fuel from Albuquerque-area gas stations.
The New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association reported that 500,000 gallons of gas and diesel had been stolen from about 30 metro stations this year.
Originally police suspected an organized ring was behind the thefts of about $2 million worth of fuel.
Now they say several individuals may be operating independently.
Last week, John Paloni, 43, was arrested on an unrelated warrant after an anonymous tip led police to a 1970s tanker truck on South Broadway that Paloni owned.
That truck was captured on video siphoning 1,000 gallons of fuel on two occasions in late March from a Tramway fueling station, police say.
Neither Paloni nor Hogan has been charged in connection with the thefts. Authorities said that the men didn't know each other and that their cases weren't connected.
Both remained in custody late Tuesday at the Metropolitan Detention Center on unrelated charges.
Albuquerque police say they are going to present a case against Hogan to a grand jury.
And sheriff's deputies say the FBI is analyzing surveillance video taken from the fueling stations' cameras of Paloni's truck.
Detectives from both agencies say authorities are trying to track down people who bought gas from the two men in hopes of charging them.
"It is obvious that you can't buy gas at $1.75 a gallon," Albuquerque police Sgt. Louis Heckroth said. "A reasonable person could assume this gas was stolen."
The agencies launched separate investigations last month into stolen fuel after the petroleum marketers' report.
Police got a break Monday while investigating Hogan for his alleged involvement in a chop shop.
APD auto theft detectives received a tip that a stolen recreational vehicle was at a storage facility in the 4700 block of West Central.
When police searched the property, they found the RV, parts to a stolen Department of Transportation truck, a stolen Xbox, a plasma television and a laptop computer.
They also found a box trailer stolen from a flooring company, a 640-gallon tank half-full of gas, and a pickup with three large tanks with a meter attached.
When police walked into the trailer, they found an electric pump, hoses, eight 50-gallon drums, a crowbar and a trapdoor on the floor.
Hogan told police the next day in jail that he stole the gas and sold it mostly to his friends.
He used the profits, he said, to fund his methamphetamine addiction.
Hogan said he stole 40,000 gallons throughout the city but could remember only one location, in the Northeast Heights, police said. He also told police he used his truck to steal diesel fuel from tractor-trailers parked at hotels.
"He said he would always leave enough fuel for them to make it back to a gas station," Heckroth said.
After finding out the police were investigating the gas thefts, Hogan told detectives he got "scared" and starting stealing gas from stations in Santa Rosa.
"He had a good operation going," Heckroth said. "There is a lot of fuel out there that he stole and sold for a profit at yours and my expense.
"Somebody's got to pay for the gas he stole."