A theft this month of 311 gallons of gasoline from a station in Baltimore is one in a series of similar incidents, according to the station's owner, who says people have been disabling pumps and allowing friends and relatives to fill their tanks for free
Mehdi Rezakhan, who owns BP stations in Remington and East Baltimore, said each businesses has been hit once, and stations owned by friends have been taken several times, one for 1,800 gallons of gasoline.
On Saturday, city police could confirm only one theft at Rezakhan's BP station in Remington, which occurred either May 6 or May 7. Police reported no suspects and said they had no idea how the thieves stole such large amounts of gasoline.
But Rezakhan, 35, said he suspected someone with knowledge of pumps was using a hammer to break a lock on a bottom panel, and then sticking a hand "up to a foot inside" to pull out a pin that disengages the counter mechanism.
"Then they call their friends and family, who come like a little train," Rezakhan said. "It's unbelievable. They pull up to the same pump, fill up and go."
He said that with the counter disabled, pumped gas doesn't register either on the pump or inside the station. He said clerks were now watching more closely to make sure their counters registered gas they saw being pumped. In at least one case, Rezakhan said, a worker wrote down the license plate number of a suspect vehicle.
Rezakhan said both his stations — one in Remington in the 2700 block of Sisson St., and another on Aisquith Street near the District Court building on East North Avenue — have been targeted in recent weeks. He said 400 gallons of gas was stolen from the North Avenue site. His friend's stations are on East 25th Street and in South Baltimore.
The owner also said he was installing more surveillance cameras, including one on each pump. He said video taken from some of the earlier thefts showed only the backs of people's heads.
Police said the theft from the Remington BP occurred between 4:30 p.m. May 6 and 10:30 a.m. March 7. Police estimated the loss from Pump 8 at $1,288, meaning the gas sold for about $4.14 a gallon.
Rezakhan credited a regular customer with alerting him to the broken pump. He said the man, whom he described as elderly, filled up his tank with 18 gallons of gas, costing about $74. But when he tried to pay with his BP credit card, it registered zero.
Instead of driving off, Rezakhan said, the man came into the shop to say his card hadn't charged. "My credit card says zero," he quoted the man saying. "He paid for it in cash. That was awesome. That's how I found out the pump was broke."
Of the thefts, Rezakhan said, "This is the worst I've ever seen. And it's not just at one site. It's all over. Every other day, we're getting hit."