CRIME

Four arrested in diesel fuel theft ring

Allison B. Hudson

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M. said four South Louisiana men have been arrested after a five-month Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission  investigation uncovered a theft ring specializing in stealing diesel fuel from farmers and other industrial users.

Michael Chad Minton, 36, of Prairieville, Clint White, 23, of Prairieville, Conner Pitre, 21, of Gonzales, and Toby Prejean, 29, of Belle Rose have been arrested in connection with diesel fuel thefts in Ascension, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.

Minton was arrested Dec. 16, Pitre, Dec. 29, and Prejean on Jan. 4.

White is expected to turn himself in to Livestock Brand Inspector Johnny Steib on Jan. 7 for booking in Pointe Coupee and Ascension parishes.

Strain said the investigation is ongoing and could yield more arrests.

Minton, White, Pitre and Prejean allegedly stole more than 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel valued at $28,340. All are charged with several counts of felony theft.

Strain said the group targeted farms, plants and construction sites equipped with diesel storage tanks and used “tote tanks” loaded in the back of a cattle trailer or truck to haul the fuel away.

In addition to the fuel, three fuel pumps valued at $1,200 are thought to have been stolen by the ring.

Strain said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office participated in the investigation.

The LBC operates under the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF). Livestock Brand inspectors are empowered to investigate all agricultural crime including livestock theft as well as farm machinery and equipment theft. The inspectors are commissioned by the Louisiana State Police and have full police powers in the performance of their duties.

Carl Bennett, director of the Brand Commission, said Inspector Johnny Steib has been investigating the thefts since July. The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office joined the investigation in November after receiving complaints of farm and industrial diesel theft.

“A concern of the Brand Commission is that similar type thefts are occurring in other parts of the state and the victims of these thefts do not even realize their diesel is being stolen,” Bennett said. “Persons who purchased this stolen diesel are also taking the chance of being criminally charged.

“The state of our economy is exceedingly tough on our farmers and ranchers. Losses due to thefts of this type only make it harder on them. Commissioner Strain has directed the Livestock Brand Commission to fight farm related crime on every front and we intend to do just that.”

Bennett said the men are facing charges in Ascension, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge as follows:

Ascension Parish

Michael Chad Minton: five counts felony theft, five counts criminal trespass, one count possession of cocaine.

Clint White: four counts felony theft, four counts criminal trespass.

Toby Prejean: one count felony theft, one count criminal trespass

Pointe Coupee Parish

Michael Chad Minton: four counts felony theft.

Clint White: three counts felony theft.

Conner Pitre: one count felony theft.

Toby Prejean: two counts felony theft.

West Baton Rouge

Michael Chad Minton: one count felony theft, one count criminal trespass, one count unauthorized use of a movable

To file a complaint involving any crime associated with the agricultural or livestock industries, call the Livestock Brand Commission office at 800-558-9741. If the matter relates to the forestry industry, timber theft or forestry arson, call 225-925-4500.