November 20, 2014 / 6:38 PM / 3 years ago

Three charged with suspected $1.5 mln oil theft from Texas fields

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Three people have been indicted for stealing shale oil over three years worth an estimated $1.5 million by driving it off in trucks that were supposed to be disposing waste water, according to court documents obtained on Thursday.

Texas residents Victor Manuel Guerra, 37, Juan Martin Bernal, 49, and Carlos Samuel Pena, 25, have been charged with theft from an interstate shipment, wire fraud and money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed this week.

No lawyers were listed for the three in documents filed in federal court in Texas. All three have been arrested.

Prosecutors said that between January 2011 and August 2014, the three conspired to siphon off oil from companies operating in south Texas' Eagle Ford Shale, including Newfield Exploration , and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

Trucks dispatched by Guerra that were supposed to remove wastewater from well sites were instead loaded with oil, with the help of Pena and Bernal, who allowed the trucks onto the oil fields, prosecutors said.

"The pilfered oil was then transported to Guerra's property where Guerra would sell the stolen product for financial gain to third-party buyers who would pay for the oil via wire transfer," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas said in a statement.

The money laundering counts can bring up to 10 years in prison and wire fraud up to 20 years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service took part in the investigation, prosecutors said.

"No matter how slick a criminal thinks he is, there's always a trail to follow," said IRS agent William Cotter. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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