Tracking one of the biggest oil theft networks in the State of Mexico

“Redlogarythm” for Borderland Beat
 Before reading this article: Borderland Beat has previously analyzed the oil theft market in Mexico and explained how clandestine intakes work (we suggest novel readers willing to know more about this phenomenon to take a look to this article)

The Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco pipeline runs from the port of Tuxpan (Veracruz) to Mexico DF (in the center of the country) The red sports are illegal intakes discovered between 2008 and 2016

     On March 29th employees at the El Caracol pump station in the municipality of Ecatepec de Morelos (State of Mexico) detected an strange level of pressure inside the underground pipes disgorging into the Túnel Emisor Oriente (Western Issuing Tunnel or TEO) Built between 2008 and 2019 the TEO was planned as the main scape route for all the water (residual and clean) produced in and acumulated by Mexico DF and its conurban area. The TEO is composed by 62 kilometers of a general conduit accessible through 24 Lumbreras (vents) ranging from 26 to 150 meters deep. The water is pumped through the TEO by the force created by several pumping stations and is directed towards the State of Hidalgo where it is used for agricultural purposes.

    On the afternoon of March 29th employees at El Caracol pumping station discovered that their section of the TEO was registering high levels of “explosivity” and pressure which were very probably caused by a leak from the 311 km long Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco PEMEX pipeline, running parallel to the TEO. Funneling gas refined in Veracruz, the Tuxpan Azcapotzalco pipeline connects the Caribbean PEMEX facilities with the urban area of Mexico City and the State of Mexico. In its way to the center of the country, the Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco pipeline passes through the States of Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo and the State of Mexico (Edomex) before entering into the DF. Needless to say, the pipeline has traditionally been a hotspot for oil-theft or huachicoleo networks which drain it constantly through clandestine intakes, stealing hundreds of thousands of liters of gas which are later sold in the legal and illicit markets.

    The flow of gasoline was stopped and elements of PEMEX, the SEDENA (Mexican army), the CONAGUA (National Water Commission)  and Civil Protection were deployed in the area to discover the origin of such leakes. After a few hours members of the units reponsible for the search noticed a strong and disgusting odour of gasoline in the air and the reason for the leakes was discovered: a few meters from the Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco pipeline, in the western side of Ecatepec, authorities seized one of Mexico´s biggest oil theft complexes ever uncovered. 

    The network worked through at least two different locations. One of them was located in the Colonia Los Charcos. Borderland Beat has been able to locate the exact location were the main hub was located. This facility was built in the intersection between Oaxaca and Canal Avenues. Here the network obtained oil from at least two cladestine intakes which connected the underground pipeline to a nearby basement through a tunnel perfectly conditioned with fresh air (renewed through ventilators), electricity and light. The intakes were connected trough hoses with an open air facility a few meters behind. Although authorities and Mexican media have said that the intakes had been operating for several years Borderland Beat can establish that the infrastructure would be 3 years old at best. According to Google Earth, which shows images from October 2018, the spot was then just a plot of land full of waste and bushes. But between 2019 and 2021 local huachicoleros had been able to build an enormous oil-theft factory were hundreds of 1,000-litre containers and dozens of pipes of 0.5 meter diameter. As the images show the network was extremely sophisticated and it suggests more a construction gear storing facility than a clandestine intake.

Aspect of the plot destined for illegal intakes as well as for storing purposes by October 2018

Two aerial images from exactly the same locations on April 2021

    It hasn´t been possible for Borderland Beat to discover the exact location of the second facility seized by authorities. Nevertheless we have spotted a possible site. It has been published that the search started in the Canal Avenue and that it continued through the Suterm Avenue where the facility was located inside a mattress warehouse. Well, in the intersection of both Avenues theres a site which could very easily be the place where this images were taken. It is a warehouse complex which by 2019 had the logo Textiles y Blancos Chiautenpin SA de CV printed on its front door.

Interior of the second oil-theft facility

Possible location of the second oil-theft facility

As we can see the place is nothing more than a warehouse containing at least 250 1,000-litre containers. In other words, it was a storing facility where the containers were kept. At is even more interesting is  that just 100 metres from this second warehouse there is a big plot of land that by 2019 (the year when the satellite images we´re using were taken) was used as a place for parking trucks and dozens of what appears to be tanker wagons. Now, Borderland Beat couldn´t stablish any link between the huachicol network operating in the municipality of Ecatepec and what appears to be several dozens of tanker trucks, but the fact that we have been able to find one of the most popular ways of transport for huachicol just a kilometers from where an enormous oil-theft facility has been found is hihgly suspicious. 

Overview of the warehouse and a nearby plot destined for the storing of trucks and tankers


    What do we know about oil theft activities in the area of Ecatepec? Borderland Beat has consulted its own data sources and has found precedents of at least 4 illegal intakes along the Tuxpan-Coatzacoalcos pipeline connecting the facilities. In the case of the second warehouse, the intake is located only a few meters from the facility. All these intakes were discovered between 2013 and 2014. Since Borderland Beat has had access only to information regarding intakes discovered between 2008 and 2016 we should consider that between 2016 and 2021 more intakes must have been discovered in the area. At the same time, there are at least two precedents of an oil-theft ring been captured in Ecatepec using tanker trucks for transporting the huachicol. Firstly, on February 14th, 2019, 35,000 litres of gas were seized with two tanker trucks and a clandestine intake inside a warehouse in San Pablo Avenue, 5 kilometres to the south of the facilities we are analyzing. Later on April 5th, 2019, 6 individuals, another clandestine intake and several tanker trucks were seized inside a warehouse in the Colonia Urbana Ixhuatepec, in this case six companies were discovered stealing natural gas condensate directly from PEMEX pipelines.

    According to Mexican media there are reports about illicit gas being distributed in the tianguis (street market) of the Colonia Río de Luz, a few kilometers from the network´s facilities. Nevertheless at this “street level” illegal gas tends to be distributed through the 1,000-liter deposits found in the warehouses, not through tanker trucks. Such devices might suggest the fact that the network was transporting the stolen gas to other places such as gas stations from where it would be distributed in great quantities.

General overview of the network´s area of operations. The red line is the Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco pipeline, the red dots are illegal intakes registered between 2013 and 2014

    Who is behind this huachicol network? Oil-theft networks in Mexico aren´t operated just by criminals. Although organized crime is always found inside any huachicoleo ring, either by providing armed protection, men or distribution through illicit sales spots, the truth is that most of the times the huachicoleros do operate under the supervision or at least with the silent consent of political authorities (inside and outside PEMEX) Several webpages and local internet journals are pointing towards Ecatepec´s former presidente municipal (mayor) José Alfredo Torres Martínez. According to these sources the second warehouse (the one we couldn´t locate in the map) belongs to both José Alfredo Torres Martínez and his son Alfredo Torres Huitrón (a federal deputy between 2015 and 2018). Both individuals have strong ties with the PRI party, and José Alfredo Torres Martínez has been one of the main heavy-hitters of Eruviel Ávila Villegas, two times mayor of Ecatepec (between 2003-2006 and 2009-201) and Governor of the State of Mexico between 2011 and 2017 (he replaced Enrique Peña Nieto when the former president started preparing the 2012 election) According to his own CV, published online, José Alfredo Torres Martínez was mayor of Ecatepec between 1993 and 1996 and since then has held several positions (such as Urban Development Secretary for the State of Mexico), always for the PRI.

On the left José Alfredo Torres Martínez. On the right Alfredo Torres Huitrón 

Borderland Beat has not been able to track any links between the Torres clan and this warehouse where the second huachicol facility was found. Neither have we been able to find any Textiles y Blancos Chiautenpin SA de CV company. It doesn´t exist as an entity.

Regardless of the impressive seize of the facilities uncovered, this oil theft network must be much bigger. The 0.5 meter diamter pipes found in the first facilities indicate by their size and quantity that they were detined for multiple intakes, not only for the two already built extrating points that were located a few meters by. The only possible conclussion is that this oil-theft network must be much bigger and continues its operations. Furthermore, the fact that no one was captured as well that much of the 1,000-litre deposits were empty indicates that the network knew about the incoming operation. 

    In conclussion, this article has analyzed the locations, known history and methods of one of the biggest huachicol networks found yet in Mexico. Nevertheless, we can reiterate that despite this provisional blow, the organization behind this theft scheme is still operative, maybe finding locations for a new intake.