Here is an excerpt from this Associated Press story in The Miami Herald:
"Police in northern Mexico caught a gang that allegedly stole oil from state-owned pipelines and smuggled it across the border to sell it to U.S. refineries, authorities said Tuesday. Federal police commissioner Rodrigo Esparza says the gang made protection payments to the Gulf drug cartel and its Zeta hitmen. 'The oil was sold to several refineries in the United States and they (the gang) received payments that were triangulated through various accounts to hide the origin of the money,' Esparza said. He did not identify the U.S. refineries that bought the oil. Prosecutors say they froze 149 bank accounts and detected bank transfers of over $46 million related to the scheme, in which the oil was smuggled across the border in tanker trucks with false import documents." Link to Full Article
Analysis: Unfortunately, this story begs more questions than it answers. Let's address each aspect one at a time, starting with the theft of the oil. Crude oil theft is common in some places more than others, such as Nigeria, which loses around $1.5 billion to crude oil theft every year. However, it doesn't seem to be common at all in Mexico. The story doesn't detail how the gang removed the oil from the pipeline and transferred it to the tanker, although it's always possible there was some involvement by or assistance from oil company employees. Assuming this gang had the knowledge and expertise to acquire the crude, I'm pretty skeptical of the false import documents they supposedly used to get into the US. Anyone driving a commerical vehicle from Mexico into the US needs more than just an import documents. They need a CBP Form I-94 to record their arrival and departure, a commercial trucking license, and other documentation that is not easy to slip past CBP - especially for a tanker carrying crude oil, which is conspicuous. Finally, Esparza declined to mention which US refineries bought the oil. I'm no expert on the oil business, but I have a hard time believing a US oil refinery would purchase crude oil in this fashion as a matter of course. It appears that most US refineries obtain their crude oil through pipelines or marine transport. How a Mexican gang would infiltrate this system, which I have a feeling is tightly controlled, is beyond my understanding.
Finally, $46 million is a sizeable figure, and I'm amazed that a Mexican gang would be pulling in that kind of money from such a scheme. One of the parts of the story that does make sense is that the gang would need to pay the Gulf cartel and/or Los Zetas a nice sum in order to conduct such business, and such a lucrative-sounding one, at that. Overall, I'm skeptical about the story for a number of reasons. However, if it's true, then Mexican criminals are indeed getting more creative and taking much higher risks in order to survive.