by Victor Lopez
ODESSA--With millons of dollars at stake, this problem affects the lease and land owners, even tax payers. This is the first major bust the Permian Basin Oil Field Theft Task Force has made since they started almost a year ago. Officials say, it definitely won't be the last.
"We know it's going on. We're going to continue the operation. We're not stopping," Midland County Sheriff, Gary Painter, said.
It was a six month investigation involving $2 million worth of stolen goods. The surprising thing, it was all being done right under the owners' noses. According to FBI Special Agent Matt Espenshade, "It involves 11 defendants that were working in a conspiracy to steal oil from leases throughout the Permian Basin."
5 men face federal charges of conspiracy, wire and mail fraud while 4 others are being held for money laundering. With one man still on the run, officials are pretty pleased with the outcome.
"I think everything went together just very nicely. It was really very well done by all the parties involved," Andrews County Sheriff Sam Jones said.
The thefts were scattered pretty evenly across the Permian Basin. Officials say they're not sure if the crimes were strictly in Ector, Midland, and Andrews counties. According to Ector County Sheriff, Mark Donaldson, that's where the task force comes in, "None of us, as Sheriffs have the manpower to be able to attach somebody to work on a case like this. There's a lot of paperwork, we're talking from December of '08, to have to research and go through that. We don't have the ability to do that."
Sheriff Painter says, they're also giving would-be thieves a chance to come clean, or suffer the consequences, "If you come forward and let us know what's going on, so we can get started with the investigation, we may be able to help somebody out. If we find out about it later, then they will receive the full force of the law."
The task force is even trying to reimburse the victims for their losses. They seized a Dodge Ram pick-up, a Lincoln Navigator, and a home in Ector County. Special Agent Espensahde says, there's more, "We'll be working with the US Attorney's office, to get money judgements against the subjects."
Sheriff Jones says they expect more of the same from the task force, in the future, "I think they've done a tremendous job thus far, in one year. I anticipate that they are going to continue to do so."
If you see something suspicious or know of any illegal activity going on in the oil field, you can call your local Sheriff's Office, the FBI or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-OIL-TIPS.
Those suspects include:
Roberto Olivas -- Odessa (Facing Federal Charges)
Robert Alvidrez -- Andrews (Facing Federal Charges l)
Paul Bermea -- Andrews
Clarence Lovell -- Andrews
Cesar Lujan -- Andrews
Daniel Martinez -- Midland (Facing Federal Charges)
Arturo Mejia, Jr. -- Andrews (Facing Federal Charges)
Carlos Montoya -- Andrews (Facing Federal Charges l)
Benito Santiago Rodriguez -- Seagraves (Remains at large)