Pumping Gas

Two Midland brothers were arrested Monday night for their alleged involvement in a fuel theft scheme, authorities said.

Reinier Munoz-Martin, 30, and Eusebio Munoz-Cepero, 19, were taken into custody around 7 p.m. after investigators with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Midland Police detectives and FBI task force officers observed the two men assisting each other to illegally pump motor fuel at a Stripe’s Convenience Store on FM 1788, according to arrest affidavits.

Investigators followed the brothers to Stripe’s after surveillance cameras linked their vehicles to alleged diesel fuel thefts at multiple Kent Kwik locations throughout Midland, authorities said.

A Kent Kwik loss prevention representative initially reported the “bulk” thefts to Midland Police, sparking an investigation that ultimately spanned local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Munoz-Martin and Munoz-Cepero drove to Stripe’s Monday night in separate vehicles – a silver Dodge Caravan and maroon Chrysler 300 four-door – while authorities trailed behind.

The Dodge Caravan, operated by Munoz-Cepero, was seen stopping over an underground fuel drop location, according to an affidavit.

“A fuel tank [was] immediately lowered into the underground tank… from underneath the front portion of the van,” the document states. “The hoses were underground for less than five minutes before the van operator pulled the hose back into the van and left.”

Munoz-Martin, the older brother behind the wheel of the Chrysler, was observed parking next to a nearby fuel pump and appeared to act as a lookout while the fuel theft was occurring, according to investigators. He was seen driving away from the gas station directly behind his brother.

The two were later pulled over by investigators on West County Road 127.

Authorities discovered a 250-gallon tote tank and 55-gallon drum barrel in the Dodge Caravan – both containing motor fuel and concealed from the front windshield view by a black “curtain” – in addition to various devices that aided in their alleged scheme.

“Further inspection revealed the vehicle was outfitted with a large car battery attached to the front passenger side floorboard,” according to an affidavit.

The car battery had “cables trailing along the floorboard to power five electronic fuel pumps that had the ability to pump a combined 95 gallons per minute [into] the large 250-gallon tank in the back of the van,” the document revealed.

The pumps were all connected with a “hose system tied into a main commercial fuel hose” that fed into the tote tank, investigators explained.

Authorities also discovered the fuel hose could be lowered into underground tanks through a portion of the front floorboard that had been removed and covered by a rubber mat.

“When they’re not paying the proper taxes [on goods such as motor fuel], they are increasing the cost of business for everyone,” said Chris Bryan, a spokesperson for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. “Any time we can catch someone and put an end to these sorts of tax schemes or thefts, we see it as us saving taxpayer dollars.”

Munoz-Martin and Munoz-Cepero are each charged with one count of evading motor fuel tax, a second-degree felony.

Munoz-Cepero is also charged with one count of transporting motor fuel without shipping documents, another second-degree felony.

Authorities have not determined how many gas stations the brothers may have targeted, Bryan said Tuesday.

Copyright 2016 KWES. All rights reserved.