Our colleagues at the San Antonio Express News have the latest on the odd story of several American companies allegedly helping Mexican drug gangs sell oil smuggled over the border from national oil company Pemex pipelines for refining in the U.S.
Valley Fuels Ltd., along with Continental Fuels Inc. of Houston, are named in seizure documents obtained by the newspaper as playing a role in the case, which has been under investigation by Mexican authorities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for two years.
Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, right, presents a repatriation check of $2.4 million from a joint investigation between U.S. and Mexico to Mexico’s Director of Tax Administration Service, Alfredo Gutierrez Mena, left, during a news conference in San Antonio, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Documents obtained by the Express News show $102,526 was seized from a bank account of Valley Fuels in March and $40,130 was seized from an account belonging to Continental Fuels, and that the money was also linked to stolen petroleum products.
Donald Schroeder, president of Houston-based Trammo Petroleum already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to buy the related petroleum products (condensate, to be more precise) knowing it was stolen. As part of a plea deal, the company also agreed to pay a $2 million fine. His attorney has said Schroeder is cooperating with the investigation.
Continental Fuel’s downtown offices appeared vacant on Tuesday afternoon, and no one responded to repeated raps on its glass doors. Phone calls to different company numbers were unanswered.
According to a December press release on the company’s web site, Continental is now one of three pink sheet public companies run by Jim Brink, which includes Heartland Oil and Gas (HTOG.PK) and Universal Property Development and Acquisition Corp.(UPDV.PK).
“We have analyzed the operation from top to bottom and eliminated duplication of effort particularly in upper management and accounting,” reports Brink, now the CEO of the entire group of companies. “We continue to maintain sufficient personnel to operate all of the Heartland wells as well as at the Port of Brownsville and Geer Tank Trucks. In the current economy, particularly in light of the falling price of oil and gas, we have moved aggressively to protect and pursue our business model.”
The companies haven’t made any SEC filings since last year and are incorporated in Nevada yet report having an office in Juno Beach, Fla. Brink was CEO and CFO of Continental and was on the board of the other two companies in the past. They also list Robert Saunooke as a board member, but we’re not sure if it’s this Robert Saunooke.
Oil theft isn’t unheard of, particularly in rural areas where marginal wells aren’t served by pipelines and rely on storage tanks that need to be emptied by tanker trucks from time-to-time. But stealing a whole barge full of product is quite a feat, and likely quite difficult. At $140 per barrel it apparently was worth the trouble.
The investigation seems to be centered more heavily around San Antonio — the press conference to return tax funds to Mexican officials was done there Tuesday — but big white collar crime stories always seem to have a way of finding a home in Houston.