By Alex Fees
(KSDK) - At least two St. Louis gas station owners or managers say somebody is breaking into gas pumps, reprogramming interior keypads and instructing the machines to dispense fuel at no charge.
Free gas is certainly not what the gas station owners had in mind.
Kevin Tippit is manager of the Phillips 66 at Lindell and Boyle in St. Louis. Tippit says his boss lost between $6,000 and $10,000 worth of gas Friday before a regular customer tipped-off an employee.
"They (the thieves) have a key to the pump and then after they open up the pump they go in and they reprogram the pump, so they can have free gas. And then everybody behind them sees what they're doing, and they continue," says Tippit.
Tippit was asked why gas station employees would not notice such activity.
"What it actually does is bypass our system," says Tippit. "It goes beyond the register and is drawing directly off the pumps."
While Tippit says he and his employees have keys to the gas pumps, they don't have codes to the interior keypads. He says the only people with those codes are employees of companies that service gas stations.
Amjad Darwish, owner of Mobile Food Mart at Lindell and Delmar, agrees. His store got hit last month.
A company that services gas stations offered a solution. That company took the interior keypads out of the gas pumps.
Darwish believes the suspect came back and tried again Friday night. This time employees recognized the suspect's license plate. They were able to see it because, in addition to several cameras that monitor the inside of the store, the store also has several cameras that monitor the parking lot and gas pumps.
"When he walks in, we locked the door and call the police. They searched his car. They found the keys (and) the program. Everything was in his car."
The St. Louis Police Department continues to investigate the thefts.