Ag Detectives Capture Elusive Fuel Thief
Drivers on the to or from Fresno early Wednesday morning were startled to encounter numerous sheriff vehicle traveling at high rates of speed toward Coalinga. All vehicles had lights and sirens going as they sped southwest. It was approximately 7 AM when an extensive investigation was about to pay off.
Detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Ag Task Force (AGTF) arrested 38 year old Juan Martinez-Barajas of Lemoore. He has been booked into jail on charges of grand theft, evading police, illegal possession of a firearm, possession of armor piercing ammunition, driving on a suspended license for DUI and probation violation. He also had an active warrant for domestic battery. His bail is set at $185,000.
During the months of August and September, substantial amounts of diesel fuel have been stolen from farmers on the west side of Fresno County. AGTF detectives opened an investigation and eventually developed information that the suspect may be driving a pickup truck or riding a quad to commit his crimes. He was also known to carry an AR-15 rifle.
On Wednesday morning, while conducting surveillance in the area of W. Phelps and S. El Dorado Avenues in Coalinga, AGTF detectives spotted a pickup truck matching the description of the wanted fuel thief. Detectives and patrol deputies attempted to make a traffic stop on the truck, but the driver sped away. The truck was soon found, but it was abandoned. Detectives coordinated with patrol deputies, our Air Support Unit, Drone Unit and K-9 Unit to setup a perimeter around the area where the suspect was believed to be. After an extensive search, the suspect was found to be hiding under trees in the middle of a dry river bed. Once given commands to surrender, the suspect complied and was taken into custody.
Detectives identified the suspect as Juan Martinez-Barajas. During a search of his vehicle, they found an AR-15, which turned out to be a “Ghost gun”, meaning there are no serial numbers on the rifle.
Detectives determined Martinez-Barajas would steal plastic containers from farmers and either haul them in a pickup truck or tow them behind an ATV. He would fill them with diesel fuel by siphoning it out of a farmer’s equipment and storage tanks. Additionally, he would paint the containers black to conceal the red-dye diesel from being seen by passing motorists. Red-dye diesel is specifically for off-road vehicles, such as farming equipment. It can be purchased at a lower price due to not being taxed like clear, highway grade diesel. Martinez-Barajas would turn around and sell the stolen diesel to truckers at about half the price one would pay at a fuel station. It is worth noting that
these truckers were breaking the law as well.
In the end, detectives learned Martinez-Barajas had been stealing fuel for the past six months at a rate of about 800 gallons per week. This totals approximately $60,000.
Anyone with additional information Juan Martinez-Barajas is asked to please contact the Ag Theft Task Force at (559) 600-8150 or Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867, http://www.valleycrimestoppers.org You will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.