Gas deal was not all it seemed

`Attendant' at West Baltimore station who offered $10 fill-ups charged with theft


Standing beside pump No. 8 at a West Baltimore Citgo gas station, a seeming attendant known by some customers as "the gas man" was offering a deal so cheap it could have been a going-out-of business-sale.

"He asks you, `You want gas? I will fill you up for $10,'" said Mohammad Mehtabdin, manager of the Citgo at Princess Plaza. "Nobody will complain about that."

It may have seemed like a no-brainer for the cash-strapped customers "the gas man" served that day, reeling from sticker shock over high gas prices: With a gallon of regular costing more than $3 in some areas, consumers are happy to get a deal when they find it - and the gas man's deal was a whopper.

But police say the deal was also dirty - that he was stealing the gas.

Joseph K. Boulware, 41, whose address was unknown, was arrested May 19 at the Citgo in the 2800 block of Edmondson Ave. on charges including theft.

Police said Boulware had an elaborate scheme that allowed him to pump gas - without station employees noticing - by using a magnetic key.

That day, according to police, he pumped gas for about 20 minutes - by Mehtabdin's account, serving up 450 gallons of fuel worth about $1,300 and pocketing money from customers.

Boulware had worked for gas testing companies in the past, enabling him to get his hands on a magnetic key and a code that effectively places a pump on standby mode, allowing him to dispense fuel unnoticed, police said.

A spokeswoman for Austin, Texas-based Tanknology said Boulware worked there from February to May 2004, but she declined to discuss his employment further.

"They have the device, you know," Mehtabdin said. "Gas stealing is not easy."

On May 19, though, something went wrong for the gas man.

About 5:30 p.m., a $71 charge for pump No. 8 showed up on the register inside the Citgo, catching sales associate Francis Okondu by surprise. It remains unclear how the transaction managed to slip through, but Okondu, 50, of West Baltimore said, "We never authorized that."

Okondu, Mehtabdin and three other employees confronted the man.

"I was working that night," said Mehtabdin, 53, of Catonsville. "He was going pump to pump. He was selling gas to the people. So our employees noticed. We asked him, `What are you going here?' He said, `Nothing, nothing.'"

While trying to flee, the ersatz attendant punched a station worker in the face, the manager said.

"He tried to run away, but we surrounded him," Mehtabdin said. "He was yelling, `I did nothing.'"

The man fled inside the station. Police arrived moments later, and arrested Boulware. They reported finding the black magnetic key hidden inside a Ritz cracker box on the second level of a shelf stocked with potato chips.

Police recovered the key, and also reported seizing $335 in cash and two purple vials containing rock-like substances that Boulware "had in his possession," police said.

He was charged with theft, assault and possession of crack cocaine.

Police say they are investigating other gas-pilfering schemes at as many as eight other stations - six in the city, two in Baltimore County.

In one case, the manager of a BP Amoco in South Baltimore discovered his tanks were 800 gallons short last month. He estimated the loss at $2,600.

Last year, Boulware was found guilty of marijuana possession in Baltimore County and sentenced to 34 days in jail, according to police records.

Mehtabdin said when the station's monthly report for May arrives in a few days, he'll be able to determine if he had losses on other days.

"We are angry," he said. "We feel bad because it's a loss to the company."

How many customers got a deal on unregistered fill-ups remains unknown.

"Some days they search for him," Okondu said. "Some of the customers come in. A lot of people say, oh, they miss him. I think many people knew him. He had a lot of customers."

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