By: Sarah Snyder
Four crooks are behind bars charged with swiping oil field equipment, but these aren't any ordinary arrests. Authorities from all around West Texas tell NewsWest 9, the bust will make big strides in decreasing oil crimes in our area.
The men and women who are now behind bars are wanted for crimes spanning Andrews and Gaines County as well as Lea and Eddy County in New Mexico. The Permian Basin Oil Field Theft Task Force says their arrests are a big victory.
"It means a good lick," Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, said. "It gets somebody out of circulation that's been hitting us pretty bad."
39-year-old Shannon Jeter, 30-year-old Fernando DeLaFuente, 28-year-old Carrie Collins and 26 year old Erin Beth Collins found their way behind bars charged with stealing copper wire from oil fields plus possession of methamphetamine. Gaines County deputies and members of the Permian Basin Oil Field Theft Task Force picked them up in Northwest Gaines County on vehicle burglary charges - that's when they found the copper wire and drugs.
"They recovered several pounds of copper wire, wire cutters, conduit, and several other items the Lea County Sheriff's office identified as being stolen in Lea County," Gaines County Chief Deputy, Charley Shaw, said.
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter tells NewsWest 9, these thefts are something his deputies deal with constantly as a part of the Permian Basin Oil Field Theft Task Force. For them, these arrests may help drop the amount of thefts local oil companies are fighting.
"We'll see a decrease in the number of reports that are coming in these particular areas, but unfortunately the way it has happened in the past, sometimes it creeps back up," Sheriff Painter said.
Officials say anytime you cross state lines, it becomes a federal investigation which may lead to even heftier charges for the thieves. But for now, Gaines County deputies say these arrests are a big step in cutting back on crime and the emotions among those officers is nothing short of excitement as they move forward.
"They're elated," Deputy Shaw said. "They're glad to see some of the copper thieves behind bars and maybe it will put a stop to a lot of the theft that's going on in the County."
Sheriff Painter also said deputies from across the state and the Task Force will be working together to write a bill that would tighten the laws on junk yards. They say that will make a big difference in knowing exactly who is selling the equipment and where it's coming from. Right now, they're hoping to have that drafted for the January legislative session.