|SIPHONING OFF RESOURCES
Drug cartels are smuggling stolen petroleum to US refineries, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico said last week.
Stolen oil flowing north to the US
Mexico fights smuggling rings
MEXICO CITY - US refineries bought millions of dollars worth of oil siphoned from Mexican government pipelines and smuggled across the border, in some cases by drug cartels expanding their reach.
At least one US oil executive has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy that involved what prosecutors said was about $2 million in stolen Mexican oil, US Justice Department officials confirmed.
Today, the US Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to hand over $2.4 million to Mexico’s tax administration. It is the first batch of money seized during a joint investigation into smuggled oil that authorities expect to lead to more arrests and seizures.
“The United States is working with the Mexican government on the theft of oil,’’ said Nancy Herrera, spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office in Houston. “It’s an ongoing investigation, with one indictment so far.’’
Donald Schroeder, president of Houston-based Trammo Petroleum, is scheduled to be sentenced in December after pleading guilty in May. Trammo, a small firm, profited about $150,000 in the scheme, in which various US companies hauled stolen Mexican petroleum products across the border in trucks and barges, according to court records.
Schroeder’s attorneys said in an e-mail that neither they nor their client would respond to requests for comment.
In Mexico, federal Police Commissioner Rodrigo Esparza said the Zetas, a fierce drug gang aligned with the Gulf cartel, used false import documents to smuggle tanker loads of oil to US refineries.
Earlier this year, the Mexican government froze 149 bank accounts after tracking more than $46 million in transfers tied to the Zeta theft. The losses continue at a record rate, according to Mexico’s state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.
In a surprising public acknowledgment, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico said last week that drug cartels have extended their operations into the theft of oil, Mexico’s leading source of foreign income. Oil finances about 40 percent of the national budget.
“These are Mexican resources, and we do not have to sit back or turn a blind eye,’’ Calderon said. “This is our national heritage, and we must defend it.’’