News 6 investigation leads to proposed statewide ban of gas pump manipulators

Legislation carries charges of second- and third-degree felonies.

The Committee on Commerce and Tourism Monday unanimously approved Florida Senate Bill 1150, which calls for felony charges for anyone who “tampers with, manipulates, removes, replaces, or interrupts any mechanical or electronic component located within a retail fuel dispenser.”

It is the first step toward a sweeping ban of the use of electronic devices that are placed into gas pumps to alter the price of diesel fuel as it is pumped into vehicles that are equipped with bladders to store then sell the fuel for pennies on the dollar.

[RELATED: Gas pump manipulators steal ‘millions of dollars’ in fuel | News 6 investigation helps lead to arrest of gas pump manipulators ]

The law, crafted by the Florida Department of Agriculture, was developed following meetings coordinated by News 6 that included the Orlando Secret Service, The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando).

A handmade device powered by two 9-volt batteries is being inserted into diesel fuel pumps by organized gangs across Florida, allowing them to pay 5 cents a gallon for the high-priced fuel, according to members of the Orlando Cyber-Fraud Task Force.

Stewart, a member of the Committee on Commerce and Tourism, told News 6 that lawmakers never would have known about the technology without WKMG-TV’s reporting.

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“I’m looking forward to helping move this along through all the committees,” Stewart told News 6. “I want to thank you and everybody for bringing it to our attention because had you not done that, we would not be where we are today.”

Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes of the Orlando Secret Service told News 6 the devices are being used and manufactured in several states, including Florida, Arizona, Texas, Nevada and California.

“Any device introduced into the fuel pump that alters its operation any way would be illegal,” Fuentes told News 6. “It gives the secret service a state law to work with to allow us to prosecute these guys on a state level.”

Fuentes said the devices cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen fuel every month, and this gives law enforcement leverage to stop the black market sales.

The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee on Agriculture and Environment and General Government and then the Committee on Fiscal Policy.

Sources told News 6 the bill is expected to pass the committees with no anticipated push back.

Florida would be the first state to ban the use of the electronic devices.

For more information on the bill, click here.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.