A twenty-year jolt for stealing gasoline? Seems a little excessive, doesn't it?
Then again, former state highway worker Jaime Perez didn't just sneak a tank or two. He's accused of fronting a giant fuel-swiping plot that cost Colorado more than $440,000.
According to the indictment on view below, Perez began working for the Colorado Department of Transportation in August 2007; his duties included snowplowing, guardrail repair and the like. As such, he was given access to fuel cards that can be used to fill up CDOT vehicles at gas stations around the state.
The procedure requires an employee to enter a four-digit Personal Identification Number and the odometer reading for the car, truck, van or plow in question -- requirements intended to prevent workers from using the cards to fill up the family sedan. But because of his job, Perez had access to the lock boxes where the fuel cards are kept, and starting in early 2009, he allegedly began sharing either the actual items or blanks with two compatriots, Fernando Ibarra-Gonzalez and Asuncion Aguirre-Barron. He also gave Aguirre-Barron CDOT employees' PIN numbers and assorted vehicle odometer readings, so they could cover their tracks.
And there were a lot of tracks to cover. They used the cards, including some encoded with data copied, cloned or skimmed by Perez, to repeatedly fill up a 1999 Ford diesel vehicle referred to in the indictment as the "fuel truck." Its features included two auxiliary fuel tanks on the back, each of which held upwards of 100 gallons of diesel. They then either used the fuel themselves or sold it to truckers for a discounted rate -- usually $1.50 a gallon.
What a bargain -- but it was too good to last. By early 2010, authorities caught on to the scheme, executing a series of search warrants in March that divulged, among other things, a ledger book with names and the amounts of fuel being transferred.
When investigators sat down with Perez, he told them he'd been having financial difficulties he traced to a new baby and family health issues. He began using the cards for his personal vehicle, but subsequently met Aguirre-Barron, who suggested they "get something going."
Eventually, Aguirre-Barron and Ibarra-Gonzalez got going, too: After they pleaded guilty to their part in the enterprise, they were deported. But Perez will get to stick around, albeit in a prison cell. In addition to the twenty-year sentence, he's been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $446,560.
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Talk about the high price of gas. Look below to see a larger version of Perez's mug shot, as well as the aforementioned indictment.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Oil wars! A Boulder oil recycling firm accuses a competitor of trespassing and theft."