East Texas Gas Thefts May Be Part Of Larger Operation

"They're filling up large barrels in the beds of pickup trucks and taking them elsewhere, we believe to sell," Officer Chris Moore, of the Tyler Police Department, said.

Nearly 500 gallons of supreme gasoline was taken in the middle of the night from this Chevron gas station at the corner of Grande Blvd. and Old Jacksonville Hwy. The convenience store was closed, but the gas pumps were still on.

"There were two pickup trucks with 55-gallon barrels in the back of them," Mike Bentley, the gas station owner, said. "Both of these pumps here filling up the barrels. They had a lookout car in the car wash and another one here on the side of the building."

An alert delivery person saw the suspicious activity, copied down a license plate number, and called police, who eventually caught up with one suspect. They arrested Cedric Darnell Stephens, 21, of Dallas, but believe more suspects are still on the loose.

"So this is something that somebody's really put a lot of thought and effort into and obviously had some inside information into how these programs work and how to access them," Bentley said.

Police say the thieves first use a key to open the access door; then they enter a code into the keypad to bypass the computer payment system. The key and code work on all pumps made by the same company.

So today, Bentley had his code changed. And now, only three people know what that code is. Bentley and police encourage all gas station owners to change their codes to prevent future thefts.

"Since we started this investigation this morning, we found a couple locations out in the county as well that have been hit," Moore said.

Police say there may be multiple groups operating stolen gas rings in East Texas. And with gas prices at record highs, thefts may be on the rise.

Police say the same group of thieves is suspected in at least one other gas theft. Last week, a gas station in Flint lost nearly 1,000 gallons of gas. Police say thieves tend to target stations that close overnight, but leave their gas pumps running for customers to fill up.

Police are asking anyone who spots suspicious activity to alert authorities.

Julie Tam, reporting.