FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Ag Task Force arrested a man on suspicion of the theft of diesel fuel Thursday.
Juan Martinez-Barajas, 38 of Lemoore, was arrested Wednesday after authorities say a substantial amount of diesel fuel was stolen from farmers on the west side of Fresno County over the course of the last few months.
Detectives say they opened an investigation and eventually developed information that the suspect may be driving a pickup truck or riding a quad to commit his crimes. Investigators say Martinez-Barajas was also known to carry an AR-15 rifle.
According to authorities, while conducting surveillance in the area of Phelps and El Dorado Avenues in Coalinga detectives spotted a pickup truck matching the description of the wanted fuel thief.
Detectives and patrol deputies say they attempted to make a traffic stop on the truck, but the driver sped away. The truck was soon found, but it was abandoned, investigators say.
After an extensive search, deputies say the suspect was found hiding under trees in the middle of a dry river bed.
Authorities said during a search of Martinez-Barajas’ vehicle they found an AR-15, which turned out to be a “ghost gun,” meaning there are no serial numbers on the rifle.
Detectives said they determined Martinez-Barajas would steal plastic containers from farmers and either haul them in a pickup truck or tow them behind an ATV.
Investigators say he would fill them with diesel fuel by siphoning it out of a farmer’s equipment and storage tanks. Additionally, they say 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.
Investigators say Martinez-Barajas would turn around and sell the stolen diesel to truckers at about half the price.
Detectives say they learned Martinez-Barajas had been stealing fuel for the past six months at a rate of about 800 gallons per week totaling approximately $60,000 in stolen fuel.
Martinez-Barajas was 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 and his bail is set at $185,000.
Anyone with additional information Juan Martinez-Barajas is asked to please contact the Ag Theft Task Force at (559) 600-8150.