Texas man gets probation in Mexican oil scheme

January 30, 2011 4:42:00 AM PST
A former Texas oil company official was sentenced to probation Friday for his role in the sale of petroleum products stolen from Mexico. Tim Brink, the former president of Continental Fuels in San Antonio, was the last of five executives and oil brokers at Texas-based companies to be sentenced in the case, which resulted from a binational probe into smuggled oil that was stolen from Mexico's state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, transported across the border and sold to U.S. refineries.

Brink had previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to receive stolen goods which carried up to five years in prison.

Instead, he received three years of probation, along with six months home confinement, said Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein also fined Brink $10,000 and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service. Brink's attorney did not immediately return a telephone call or e-mail seeking comment.

The Mexican government has said drug cartel members and other criminals are responsible for many oil thefts. They tap remote pipelines, and sometimes build pipelines of their own, siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil each year.

The investigation began in 2007 when Pemex contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report suspicions that its products were being smuggled into the U.S. Prosecutors said Brink's company in 2009 received 22 tanker trucks of stolen Mexican condensate, a liquid hydrocarbon that refiners can blend with crude oil to produce fuel and other products.

Pemex, which is the only legal owner and exporter of Mexican oil to the U.S., has been struggling for years to quell a seemingly endless series of taps on its pipelines by thieves. Oil revenues fund about 40 percent of the Mexican government's budget.

U.S. investigators found some U.S. brokers were involved in sales of the stolen oil to small fuel distributors. No major U.S. refiners have been implicated.

Of the four other Texas oil executives and brokers convicted in the case, three also received probation and the other was given a six-month prison term followed by six months of home confinement.

In June, Pemex filed a lawsuit in Houston federal court against the companies and individuals named in the investigation. That suit is still pending.