LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) —Steep discounts at the pump may land two suspects in prison for several years, according to Lakeland police.
Police said Rodney Linfernal Alvarez and Jose Vasquez Montero manipulated the pump at a 7-Eleven gas station on two occasions in October.
“They appear to be only buying say $100 worth of fuel when, in actuality, it’s each time been well over $1,000 in fuel that they’re actually pumping,” said Robin Tillett, the public information officer for the Lakeland Police Department.
One suspect allegedly went into the store and paid the $100. Then, the two men manipulated the retail fuel dispenser to change the rate of flow for the fuel, according to their affidavits.
On Oct. 6, the suspects stole 242 gallons of diesel fuel, valued at $1,086.58, according to the affidavit.
The alleged theft on Oct. 9 was 410 gallons of diesel fuel, valued at $1,840.97.
The men were arrested after they returned to the same gas station on Wednesday and stole 330 gallons of diesel fuel valued at $1,471.80, according to police.
Local gas station owners told News Channel 8 Thursday, the profit margins for their stores are slim and any theft would hurt. Police are urging them to pay close attention.
“You have to be observant. You have to monitor those things. If you see a semi gassing up and they come and pay $100, you might want to actually check those pumps and see what’s coming out of them,” said Tillett.
Alvarez and Montero faced a judge Thursday for their first court appearance.
The judge found probable cause for retail fuel theft and charges related to tampering with the pump.
On July 1, new laws went into effect in Florida to crackdown on fuel theft and pump manipulation. The felonies now carry a five to 10-year prison sentence.
In July, Lakeland police arrested another man, Roydenis Ferrand, 40, who is accused of doing the same thing at the same gas station.
“We’re not sure that these cases are related but they are very similar in the manner in which the crime is taking place,” said Tillett. “They are being monitored. We as law enforcement agencies are sharing that information. So even if you’re not in our jurisdiction but you’re in a neighboring county, we all share that information.”