View Mobile Site

Ripon citizen helps cuff gas thief

Target was fuel for Ripon school buses

Text Size: Small Large Medium
Ripon citizen helps cuff gas thief

Ripon Officer Stephen Meece inspects a commercial fuel pumping system and a large tank with siphoned-off diesel fuel from the Ripon Unified School District’s tank shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Photo Courtesy Ripon Police Department/


POSTED August 8, 2013 1:54 a.m.

The wheels on the bus will go ’round and ’round next week thanks to  a concerned citizen.

Joe Henry Leonardo Sr. was booked into San Joaquin County jail on a felony count of Grand Theft Wednesday.

Leonardo was caught siphoning gas from a Ripon Unified School District fuel tank located at Ripon High School, near the Highway 99 catwalk.

The 44-year-old Ceres resident used industrial hoses and a pumping system to transfer approximately 500 gallons of diesel fuel  from the school district’s tanks to those in a trailer attached to his flat-bed Dodge.

The fuel, which is used to power the district’s fleet of buses, was valued at $2,250. Ripon Unified returns to the classroom next Wednesday.

“I’ve spoken to the district and they’re in the process of getting all their buses ready to go,” Sgt. Steve Merchant of the Ripon Police Department. “So this would have had quite an impact on the district, because they would have needed to get an emergency shipment of fuel. And with budget cuts, any additional costs, especially in transportation, would have had a major impact on our schools.”

Leonardo’s midnight heist was foiled by a concerned citizen – on National Night Out, no less.

Hours after the department’s community outreach program, a citizen alerted Ripon police to a suspicious person siphoning gas from the district tank. Scott King was the arresting officer; he was assisted by field training officers Stephen Meece and Brett Delgado.

Merchant praised the instincts of the citizen, and he encouraged others to report any suspicious activity.

“We cannot be everywhere. Without the citizens help we wouldn’t be as successful as we are,” Merchant said. “Any case a citizen helps us with, we’ll give them as much credit as we can give them. Without that person calling us, we probably wouldn’t have found (Leonardo).”

The hoses and pumping equipment allowed Leonardo, 44, to transfer the gas quickly into two tanks located in a trailer. Merchant estimates the suspect loaded 500 gallons into those tanks and was likely capable of taking more than 100 more.

“Based on what we  saw, it would pump as fast as a regular gas pump, if not quicker,” Merchant said.

Leonardo was arrested without incident shortly after midnight. Officers reported that he appeared to be hiding in the cab of the truck.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...