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Quick and Dirty

Jammed at Joe’s

Frank Klein
Joe's Garage

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/14/2005

Maryland’s state fuel contractor says he helped foil a gas-theft caper last week, but his involvement is unclear.

Two men were allegedly trying to steal gasoline diverted from the State Highway Administration on Sept. 6. According to state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer’s office, Cedric C. Laws, a driver for Baltimore fuel distributor Petro Express, was about to sell 2,000 gallons of the pilfered gasoline from his truck to Joseph Goldman, 59, owner of Joe’s Garage in Northwest Baltimore, when enforcement agents from the Comptroller’s Office and the Baltimore Police Department arrested them. They were each charged with theft in excess of $500.

The two men face potential sentences of 15 years in prison and $25,000 fines. Laws is also charged with unlawfully selling motor fuel in Maryland, a misdemeanor carrying a potential one-year prison term and a $5,000 fine.

Schaefer’s Sept. 6 announcement credited Petro Express with initiating the investigation on Sept. 1 after hearing complaints from customers that fuel deliveries were coming up short. Pete Sevison, vice president of Petro Express, says the only complaint came from Mark Dixon, president of Commercial Fuel Systems, which built and controls the state’s fuel-management system.

“Mark called and said they were coming up short on a delivery,” Sevison says. “So we kind of looked at it and, via the GPS on the truck, saw what kind of happened.”

City Paper has questioned the state’s contract with Commercial Fuel Systems (“Pumpin’ Ain’t Easy,” Feature, Aug. 31). Dixon has said that Commercial Fuel’s computer system checks the tanks every day to make sure they have the correct amount of fuel as required by the contract.

Sevison says Laws was scheduled to deliver 5,000 gallons of gas to the State Highway Administration in Owings Mills. Laws allegedly dropped 3,000 gallons in the underground tank there, then drove to Joe’s at 4200 Wabash Ave. in Northwest Baltimore to sell the remaining 2,000 gallons for $2,000 to Goldman, Sevison says. “We’re finding out more,” he adds. “There may have been other incidents.”

According to the police report generated after the arrest, the “scheme would work as follows: Cedric Laws would short his delivery and then transport the stolen gasoline to Joe’s Garage where he would be paid by Joseph Goldman the amount of $1 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline delivered. Cedric Laws relayed that he had done this many times since April 2005 but could not recall how many times.”

The complaint from Dixon came about a week before the arrests, Sevison says. Although Dixon says he worked together with motor fuel tax enforcement agents from the Comptroller’s Office, Michael Golden, a spokesman for the office, denied that Dixon had contacted the state. He would not answer further questions, saying that the investigation is ongoing.

In his press release, Schaefer suggested that all fuel consumers, “especially those receiving unmanned bulk deliveries, should pay close attention that their delivery receipts match what is actually received.”

Yet Commercial Fuel, servicing 92 unattended, state-owned fuel depots, may be the only such consumer in Maryland.

“Mark’s sites are unique,” Sevison says. “You go into one of his sites, you don’t see a soul, [you] sign a ticket, and take off.”

Sevison says Laws had worked for Petro Express since March of 2005, but had also driven for the company without any problems several years ago. Laws could not be reached for comment. A message left at Joe’s Garage, also known as the Subway Service Center, was not returned, and a woman who answered a cell-phone number believed to be Goldman’s hung up on a reporter.

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