New Mexico Man Arrested in Heist of Biodiesel
Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM) -- December 5, 2010 -- Santa Fe police say Michael Puzak had gas; a lot of it.
Industrial Products and Biofuels
The 29-year-old Rio Rancho man was arrested Friday and charged with larceny after police say he stole 488 gallons of environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel from the Giant gas station at 1229 Cerrillos Road, using a modified U-Haul truck specially fitted to store large quantities of fuel in the back of the vehicle.
The back of the moving truck contains 11 55-gallon drums and two 250-gallon fuel tanks, according to a police report.
Puzak is being held at the Santa Fe County jail without bond on one count of larceny.
Friday was the fourth time since Nov. 4 that the Cerrillos Road gas station was hit by a big biodiesel fuel heist. In each case, the thief was able to leave without being charged.
In the previous three thefts, a total of 1,548 gallons of the energy-friendly fuel was stolen. Police suspect Puzak was responsible, or was involved with a group that is, but he has not yet been charged in those cases.
"We're trying to figure out how he was able to get the fuel pumps flowing without being charged or detected," Santa Fe Police Chief Aric Wheeler said. "And we've also contacted other agencies (including federal authorities) to see if this matches any similar cases."
Wheeler added, "We aren't clear at this point if he was reselling it or what he was using it for."
Puzak was charged along with two other men in 2006 with stealing large quantities of fuel from several Albuquerque area gas stations and reselling the gas on the cheap. The stolen gas in that case was reportedly valued at around $500,000.
Another man charged in that case, Robert Burkholder, was a former repairman whom investigators say knew how to use magnets, special codes and other means to start pumps without paying.
A police report filed for the Puzak case states he had a gold Visa card that read "Preferred Customer" in the place where a customer's name should go. It is unclear if that was the device used to activate the pumps.
Online court records indicate Puzak pleaded guilty to a third-degree larceny charge in the 2006 case before state District Judge Albert S. Murdoch. He served less than a year in jail and completed about three years of probation in that case on April 22.
He was given a conditional discharge May 5.
The older-model moving truck used in Friday's heist has Arizona license plates and isn't reported stolen, but police do not suspect it is actually owned by U-Haul.
"Maybe it was bought in an auction somewhere along the way, but it's obviously not a standard U-Haul," Wheeler said.
Inside the front cabin of the vehicle, which was parked at a Santa Fe Police Department impound lot on Saturday afternoon, could be seen a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, protective gauze, a lighter, rosary beads and a vise-grip tool fastened on a broken headlight knob. The 488 gallons of suspected stolen biodiesel fuel were still in the back of the U-Haul, and the back door of the vehicle was propped open for ventilation.
Just behind the driver's door is a 4-inch square cut out of the side of the truck, where several fuel hoses can be seen leading to large barrels inside.
When police confronted Puzak on Friday, after being alerted by a gas station attendant, he claimed to have just purchased $5 worth of gas, but said he had lost his receipt. Asked about the large barrels in the back of his U-Haul, Puzak said they contained used motor oil.
The website biodiesel.org describes biodiesel as a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources. It contains no petroleum, but can be blended with petroleum diesel fuel and can be used in diesel engines with few or no modifications.
The fuel, which is not owned by Conoco, is on consignment at the station from the Santa Fe company Renewable Energy Partners. A message left for Charles Bensinger, biofuels program director for the company, was not returned Saturday.
The company's website states the biodiesel fuel is available at the Amigo Mart Giant Conoco, site of the recent heists, and at the Giant Phillips 66 near Horseman's Haven, 4354 Cerrillos Road.
A police report filed on the first three heists states the going rate for the fuel was $3.40 per gallon, for a loss of $5,263.20. On Friday's , the fuel was priced at $3.48 per gallon, bringing the total value of that heist to $1,698.24.
Wheeler said it is too early to know if more fuel thefts will be linked to Puzak, or if a much larger theft ring might be uncovered.