Gas bargains turn out to be theft at pumps


Some customers who pulled up to a BP Amoco gas station in South Baltimore were, for a short time, apparently able to fill their tanks for a price far below what was advertised.

But the station wasn't offering a cut-rate deal to cash-strapped customers anxious for relief from the nation's soaring gasoline prices.

Police say the gas was being stolen.

And the station manager said he had no idea anything was missing until he took a monthly inventory this past weekend and realized his tanks were 800 gallons short.

City police are investigating what they call an elaborate and sophisticated theft in which thieves used a master key to open doors to the pumps and then entered a secret code to reprogram a computer so that dispensed gasoline would not register in the cashier's office.

"They would then sell gas to customers as they drove up," said Officer Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman. The thieves, not the station, pocketed the proceeds, which the station manager said was most likely less than the $3-plus a gallon he has been charging lately.

"It's amazing that this thing can happen," said station manager Mohammed Hanif, who said he noticed the missing gas Saturday as he reviewed monthly receipts from his station on Haines Street, just off Russell Street, a heavily traveled road that leads into the city.

He estimated the loss at $2,600, and said dozens of cars could have been filled up under the scheme.

Police said they were investigating the possibility that employees might have been involved. Hanif said that none of his workers had access to the key or the code that was used to reprogram the computer. However, he said crews that repair the pumps have access.

Hanif said that he was selling regular gas at $3.09 when, he suspects, the theft occurred; yesterday, that price had dropped to $3.05 a gallon.

But the 50-year-old manager doesn't believe that high gas prices is a motive.

"I mean, if someone wants to steal gas," Hanif said, "they are going to steal it even if it's a dollar a gallon."

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