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Financial Crimes

3 convicted for role in theft of PEMEX product and sale of products in US

HOUSTON - A criminal information charging three men for their roles in brokering the sale of petroleum products stolen from Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has been unsealed following the guilty plea of the third defendant on Friday. These convictions were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The charges resulted from an on-going ICE investigation into the theft of Mexican petroleum products, particularly condensate, and the transportation and sale of the petroleum product to U.S. companies.

The criminal information filed under seal in September 2009 was unsealed after each defendant entered guilty pleas for conspiring to receive and sell stolen goods. Arnold Maldonado, 45, of Edinburg, Texas, entered his guilty plea on Sept. 25. Jonathan Dappen, 29, of McAllen, Texas, pleaded guilty on Oct. 2 and Stephen Pechenick, 78, of San Antonio, Texas, pleaded guilty on Oct. 9. If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years imprisonment and up to $250,000 in fines.

The Government of Mexico provided information to ICE in 2007 alleging numerous companies and individuals were involved in stealing petroleum products from the Mexican oil company PEMEX, and for selling the stolen petroleum in the United States. The ICE investigation, involving agents from its San Antonio and Houston offices, found that various companies imported Mexican condensate stolen from PEMEX into the United States. The import companies received and coordinated moving semi-truck tankers loaded with stolen condensate from Mexico into the United States via a land border port of entry. The import companies, which directed the tanker trucks to deliver the petroleum to locations inside the Port of Brownsville, Texas, were paid by wire transfer to various accounts in a scheme that resulted in selling stolen petroleum worth millions of dollars.

The ICE investigation, which was coordinated with Mexico, traced the receipt of the stolen petroleum to certain middlemen; they then brokered the sale of the stolen petroleum products to U.S. companies. Jonathan Dappen brokered transactions between U.S. and Mexican companies. Two of the U.S. companies identified as receiving and coordinating the movement of the stolen petroleum were Y Oil and Gas through Arnold Maldonado, and Valley Fuels through Steve Pechenick.

The U.S. companies paid the stolen Mexican petroleum importers, and then stored the product until a sufficient quantity accumulated to load on a barge. As the stolen petroleum moved further from the border, other individuals became involved in the scheme, such as Donald Schroeder, 60, of Houston. Schroeder, president of Trammo Petroleum, was the first to be charged as a result of this ongoing investigation. He entered a guilty plea on May 29 and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein accepted the guilty pleas of Maldonado, Dappen and Pechenick and has set sentencing for Jan. 8, 2010, for Maldonado and Jan. 15, 2010, for Dappen. Pechenick is also set to be sentenced in January 2010.