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SO INVESTIGATES TOWER FUEL THEFTS
Communications tower sites across La Salle County have been targeted for their fuel in the past two weeks, and thieves have made off with what may amount to hundreds of gallons of diesel, according to investigators at the sheriff’s office.
The crime spree may be linked to an organization planning a series of strikes, La Salle Lt. Homar Olivarez said this week, although investigations into the thefts have yet to reveal further evidence.
A report on the ongoing case shows that a county deputy was conducting routine patrols recently when he spotted a perimeter gate that had been forced open. Examining the property, the officer reported finding that the gate to the communications tower site had likewise been broken.
In each of the recent cases, Lt. Olivarez said, thieves have targeted sites where power to the communications towers is supplied by a diesel-fueled generator. La Salle Undersheriff Rene Sobrevilla said it appears sites powered by natural gas or propane have been ignored.
“Depending on the generator at each site, the fuel amounts stored there can be as much as 75 gallons at a time,” the undersheriff said.
Lt. Olivarez said reports of the thefts have come from tower operators who discover that the fuel they had supplied to the generators has gone or from officers finding broken gate locks.
“These do not appear to be spontaneous crimes of opportunity, as some of these sites are remote, but others are right by the highway,” the lieutenant said. “It is likely that these thefts have been carried out under cover of darkness. We are reminding all county residents to be on the lookout for suspicious activity, and if they see something they should say something.
“Nobody would be working on a tower generator in the middle of the night, so seeing a truck or workers at a tower in the dark would certainly arouse suspicion,” Olivarez added.
The sheriff’s office has not determined how the fuel is being extracted from the tower generators, and investigators believe that while syphoning fuel from the tanks is likely, thieves may be using a mechanical pump.
Olivarez said a number of charges may be filed against those responsible for the thefts, including misdemeanor trespassing, state jail felony burglary of a building, misdemeanor criminal mischief for damage to the facilities, and theft charges for removal of the fuel.
“Depending on the amount, the fuel theft may amount to a felony charge,” the lieutenant said. “If these offenses are linked, then they may accumulate and can be charged at a higher level.
“We are also examining the possibility of organized criminal activity behind this string of thefts,” Olivarez said. “Further charges may be filed related to organized crime by those plotting and executing these offenses. We are not sure yet how far this criminal organization may extend. We have had organized theft rings operating in this area in the past. Some have driven up here from the Gulf Coast to hit our oilfield and energy industry sites before, committing fuel and equipment thefts.”