October 4, 2023

A man state authorities linked to at least eight instances of fuel theft across Florida is now in custody.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the arrest of Harold Blanco, who investigators say repeatedly stole fuel from a RaceTrac station in Kissimmee. He was apprehended following “extensive surveillance and analysis” at the station while attempting to again tamper with a fuel pulser dispenser.

Blanco attempted to flee before members of the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE) and Osceola County Sheriff’s Office chased him down.

He faces more than 30 criminal charges, including second- and third-degree felony charges of obtaining fuel fraudulently, unauthorized access to an electronic device, unlawful conveyance of fuel, criminal mischief and organized scheme to defraud.

“I am proud of the exceptional teamwork displayed by the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in apprehending this suspect, who is linked to a spree of retail fuel thefts across Central Florida,” Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said in a statement.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners and fuel retailers to combat these organized criminal activities that hurt Florida’s consumers and businesses.”

A Wednesday press note from the department noted Simpson also worked with state lawmakers this year to create criminal penalties for the possession, installation and use of devices that manipulate fuel pulsers, which count the gallons of fuel being dispensed at a fuel pump.

The new penalties, which the Legislature approved unanimously shortly before the end of the 2023 Session, make tampering with a gas station pump a third- or second-degree felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison. Sen. Blaise Ingoglia and Rep. Lawrence McClure, both Republicans, sponsored the legislation in their respective chambers.

Lt. Corey Kissinger, an investigator with the OALE, wrote the original version of the bill, which underwent one amendment before passing. He told CBS affiliate WKMG-TV that the new law “will be huge” in helping law enforcement agencies combat the illicit activity, which criminals “will keep doing until they go to prison.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure (HB 1307) May 25.

Just one handmade pulser manipulator can steal upwards of $3 million in gas per year, Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes of the Orlando Secret Service told WKMG-TV for a May 2022 report that Simpson credited for bringing attention to the issue.

At the time, Fuentes said the device was technically legal to possess.

“There’s no law on the books that says the device is contraband,” he said.

As Blanco’s arrest shows, that’s no longer the case.

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