WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Four men in North Dakota are accused of stealing approximately $2.4 million worth of crude oil for more than a year, authorities said.
McKenzie County court records cite 149 deliveries of stolen oil between November 2020 and March 2022, based on reports by officials with Crestwood Midstream. The total number of barrels adds up to 34,199, worth more than $2.4 million, according to the Williston Herald.
According to McKenzie County online booking records, the men arrested were Michael Jason Garcia, 42, of Watford City; Mark Allan McGregor, 60, of Watford City; Joseph John Vandewalker, 34, of Arnegard; and Darrell Woody Merrell, 42, of Watford City.
All four were charged with conspiracy to commit theft, a Class A felony; and dealing in stolen property, a Class B felony. Garcia also faces a charge of leading a criminal organization, also a Class B felony, the Herald reported.
The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office alleges in court documents that Merrell and Vandewalker, who are truck drivers, skimmed oil they were scheduled to unload at a Crestwood Midstream facility, The Bismarck Tribune reported. Court documents allege that the men manipulated equipment such as transfer pumps during their deliveries.
Merrell and Vandewalker allegedly stored the oil in two tanks at a facility south of Watford City and later sold the stolen oil, according to the newspaper.
The Oil & Gas Division of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources has “no facility permits or anything of the sort in this area near Watford City where this allegedly took place,” plant manager Mark Bohrer told the Tribune.
McGregor was taking care of the transportation and housing of the stolen oil, while Garcia was marketing it, the Herald reported.
Garcia told investigators in April that skimming oil is “a common practice out here,” according to the affidavit.
“There are a lot of trucking companies out here that skim oil, everybody does it, it’s very easy, you can manipulate the numbers,” Garcia said.
The investigation began after the sheriff’s McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office received a report of stolen crude oil from a former driver of the trucking company in March, the Tribune reported.
McGregor and Vandewalker have preliminary hearings scheduled for Sept. 1, while Merrell and Garcia have pleaded not guilty and have a jury trial set for Nov. 14, according to the newspaper.
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