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Alert deputy helps arrest 3 ag theft suspects
ag theft
The men believed to be responsible for stealing the truck pulled up to the scene in this rented box truck full of stolen equipment.

A quick-thinking deputy on his way to work helped stop a band of local thieves that had been targeting rural agricultural operations for more than a week.

On Tuesday, a San Joaquin County Sheriff’s deputy was on his way to work when he saw a white Ford F-250 pickup truck broken down on French Camp Road near Austin Road that had an agricultural tank sitting in the bed – noticing that the vehicle matched the description one that was reported stolen from a local business along with fuel and more than $10,000 worth of fuel cards.

After radioing for a marked patrol car to respond to the scene, three men – identified as 31-year-old Jose Hernandez-Bautista, 25-year-old Jose Oregel-Barajas, and 24-year-old Jesus Castro – pulled up in a rented Enterprise box truck and claimed to be the owners of the truck. The deputy that responded ran the license plate and determined that the F-250 truck had been reported stolen, and that the box truck contained a number of items that had been reported stolen as well.

It was at that time that victims from a recent burglary arrived on scene and notified deputies that there was surveillance camera footage of the three men taking items from their property.

During the investigation officers discovered a 500-gallon fuel thank with more than 300 gallons of red-dye diesel – which is intended only for agricultural use – left in the tank. The suspects admitted to taking fuel cards and purchasing more than $13,000 worth of diesel fuel and driving it around to local truck yards and selling in to truck drivers for only $2-a-gallon.

“At the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, teamwork is what we do best,” the Sherriff’s Office said in a statement announcing the arrest. “The initial investigation of the case took most of the day and consisted of a collaborative effort by many. Thank you to the nightshift patrol deputies who stayed over their shift most of the day to assist the dayshift units and the AGNET detectives that worked on this case.

“Their combined efforts led to the return of stolen property to multiple victims and the successful closure of several burglary cases in our county.”

The three men are currently being held in the San Joaquin County Jail on charges of conspiracy, vehicle theft, possession of stolen property, burglary, and looting. Because of the charge of looting – also known as burglary during a state of emergency – the three men will not be eligible for a book-and-release under California’s zero-bail policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.