ORLANDO, Fla. – An investigation into gas pump manipulators by News 6 and the Orlando U.S. Secret Service office has sparked an aggressive legal salvo by state prosecutors, leading to the arrest of three Central Florida men charged with multiple counts of racketeering.
Investigators tell News 6 the men identified as Luis Sandy Alonso, Osniel Valdez and Alexander Infante targeted Duval County and other parts of northern Florida to install counterfeit pulsar devices inside gas station pumps to slow down the mechanism that calculates gallons sold and the price you pay at the pump.
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Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes of the Orlando Secret Service told News 6 the suspects said they chose northern Florida because they thought it would be easier to operate there.
A five-month investigation by the Secret Service Jacksonville office led to the arrests in Osceola and Orange Counties Wednesday morning.
“This is the first time we’ve ever charged racketeering in relation to diesel theft,” Fuentes said. ”It’s never been done before, and it’s being spearheaded by the state attorney’s office.”
Fuentes said he hoped the charges will set a precedent and deliver a “big deterrence” to the fuel thefts being reported in Florida and across the country.
The device being sold on the streets for as much as $5,000 dollars can be built for $40 dollars in parts and batteries.
Investigators told News 6 a fourth suspect is expected to be arrested in the case.
Senior Special agent Lawrence Lomonaco, who led the investigation for the Jacksonville Secret Service office, said the suspects would travel to north Florida and “commit the fuel theft,” then they would transport the fuel and bring them to several fuel yards in the Jacksonville north Florida area.
“From there, the fuel would be resold to independent truckers or LLCs,” Lomonaco said. “Or at times, they would load stolen diesel fuel into trailers and bring it back to Central Florida.”
Lomonaco said the original News 6 reporting on the pulsar device caught the attention of the statewide prosecutor’s office and launched the investigation in the Jacksonville area.
These arrests involved a joint operation with the U.S. Secret Service, FHP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture, OPD, Orange and Osceola County sheriff’s offices.