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Feds Nab Eagle Ford Crude Oil Thieves

Federal authorities in Laredo, TX, Wednesday made their third arrest in an Eagle Ford Shale oil theft case, taking into custody Victor Manuel Guerra Jr.

Last month, a federal grand jury in Del Rio, TX, indicted the Laredo resident and two others -- Juan Martin Bernal of Eagle Pass, TX, and Carlos Samuel Pena of Del Rio -- on charges of theft of oil from interstate shipment, wire fraud, and money laundering. Guerra is charged with two counts of theft from interstate shipment, 69 counts of wire fraud and 58 counts of money laundering. Bernal and Pena, who were arrested earlier in November, are both charged with one count of theft from interstate shipment and sixty-nine counts of wire fraud.

The indictment alleges that between January 2011 and August 2014, the defendants devised a scheme to steal oil from energy companies operating in the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale, including a company Bernal worked for, Newfield Exploration Co., and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a company that employed Pena.

Guerra, who owned Las Lomas Vacuum Services and AVG Vacuum Services, provided wastewater removal services from oilfield well sites. According to the indictment, Guerra's trucks had no authority from the Railroad Commission of Texas to receive or transport oil. Further, the wastewater trucks were not designed to safely carry and transport oil. 

The indictment further alleges that although Guerra's company had no contract or permission to be on Newfield or Anadarko property, Pena and Bernal covertly allowed the wastewater trucks onto the company properties. Instead of removing wastewater from the oilfield storage tanks, the drivers, in collusion with Pena and Bernal, would take oil. The pilfered oil was then transported to Guerra's property where Guerra would sell the stolen product to third-party buyers who would pay for the oil via wire transfer.

The indictment also includes a notice of criminal forfeiture wherein the U.S. government is seeking proceeds derived from the fraudulent scheme as well as funds totaling more than $1.5 million, which represents the amount of proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of the criminal scheme.

"The vast expanse of the Eagle Ford Shale and the high level of oil and gas drilling and production in the area provide many opportunities for those inclined to cheat and steal," said U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman.

Texans have also been known to cheat and steal in the northern portion of the state, where several years ago a Barnett Shale theft ring was busted (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3, 2011). East Texas has seen its share of theft, too (seeDaily GPI, July 15, 2009).

Upon conviction, the theft and money laundering counts are punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000. The wire fraud counts are punishable by imprisonment up to 20 years and a fine of $250,000.

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