(FOX 11) It's a complicated racket, involving stolen diesel fuel, credit card fraud, identity theft, and then, there's the danger of possible explosions. All of it, tied to an organized crime ring.
Gigi Graciette has the story you'll only see on FOX 11.
Detectives with the LAPD's Transnational Organized Crime Section, together with Secret Service agents and Hawthorne Police officers, moved in to take down a warehouse in South Gate Tuesday morning.
The rented space, part of a huge criminal operation, police say, that they've been investigating for six months...and in a FOX 11 News exclusive, we were right there with them.
Armed with a search warrant, inside police say they found exactly what they were looking for. Starting with hundreds of plastic cards - which most likely have someone's stolen identity and credit card information embedded in their plastic strips. It's the identify theft part of the operation. One in which most victims probably don't even know that they've had their identities stolen.
"As you use your credit card at a gas station, that pump has a skimmer on it and that's what they've planted", says Lt. Stephan Margolis with the LAPD.
Margolis heads up the team of detectives who for the last six months have been investigating a group he says operates much like the mafia. Organized crime.
"They use the skimmers to rip off the identities from these innocent victims and then they're taking that information and putting it on recoded credit cards", explained Margolis.
But that's only the first part of this sophisticated scheme to steal because according to their investigation, police say those recoded plastic cards are then used by the same thieves to buy diesel fuel which is then resold for a hefty profit.
"And gas stations are buying this stolen diesel fuel to be able to resell it at cheaper prices?" I asked Margolis as we watched a tanker truck that holds 9700 gallons of fuel being removed from the warehouse.
"Absolutely!", he said. "And they know it's stolen."
There were also several smaller trucks inside the warehouse that police called "bladder trucks" because of the makeshift illegal tanks inside used to carry the diesel.
They're also known as "bombs on wheels" because many have blown up while on the road.
Behind the operation, the LAPD says is a group with ties around the world and these are no common criminals.
"The proceeds not only stay in Los Angeles from this criminal element but from what we've seen, they also move across to Europe and to the former Soviet Union", explained Margolis. "The money keeps moving."
The money, millions of dollars, according to police.
On a side note, inside the warehouse there were also three dogs who nearby workers told me were kept there round the clock by the people who rented the space.
The dogs, a beautiful gray pitbull, a black pittie mix and another mixed breed, were as sweet as could be. And all three appeared thrilled to be outside in the sunshine. They were taken by animal control and can be claimed by whomever owns them.
Hopefully, they won't be returned to a dark and dank warehouse to live next to a diesel truck.
As for criminal charges against the owners of the trucks, police say the investigation is ongoing.