Three Charged in Eagle Ford Shale Oil Theft Case
In Laredo, TX, today, federal authorities arrested 37-year-old Victor Manuel Guerra, Jr., in connection with an alleged theft of Eagle Ford Shale oil announced United States Attorney Robert Pitman; Christopher Combs, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division; and William Cotter, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge.
Last month, a federal grand jury in Del Rio, TX, indicted the Laredo resident and two others—49-year-old Juan Martin Bernal of Eagle Pass, TX, and 25-year-old 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, sixty-nine counts of wire fraud and fifty-eight counts of money laundering. Bernal and Pena, who were arrested earlier this month, 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 Company, and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a company that employed Pena. Guerra, who owned Las Lomas Vacuum Services and AVG Vacuum Services, provided wastewater removal services from oil field well sites. According to the indictment, Guerra’s trucks had no authority from the Texas Railroad Commission 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 Andranko property, Pena and Bernal covertly allowed the wastewater trucks onto the victims’ properties. Instead of removing wastewater from the oil field 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 for financial gain to third-party buyers who would pay for the oil via wire transfer.
The indictment also includes a notice of criminal forfeiture wherein the 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. This indictment gives notice that this office will work closely with federal and state law enforcement agencies to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate unlawful schemes to exploit the financial opportunities presented in the oil field,” stated United States Attorney Robert Pitman.
“While the theft the defendants allegedly engaged in resulted in significant losses for two publicly traded companies, this type of criminal activity often harms the American public as well by hindering the creation of new jobs, raising prices for consumers, and depriving communities of tax revenue needed to fund infrastructure and other vital projects,” said Christopher Combs, Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “The FBI will continue to work side-by-side with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who put their greed above the law.”
IRS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge William Cotter said: “No matter how slick a criminal thinks he is, there’s always a trail to follow. In this case, IRS CI Special Agents employed their financial investigative expertise to separate the oil from the water, leading them to Guerra Jr., Bernal, and Pena.”
Upon conviction, the theft and money laundering counts are punishable by imprisonment up to ten years and a fine of $250,000 and the wire fraud counts are punishable by imprisonment up to 20 years and a fine of $250,000.
This indictment resulted from an investigation conducted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation, Texas Attorney General’s Special Investigations Unit, Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, Dimmit County Sheriff’s Office, and the Texas Railroad Commission. Assistant United States Attorneys Bryan Nathan Reeves and Timothy Adam Duree are prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.
An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.