Florida agriculture commissioner credits News 6 in developing gas manipulator bill

Identical bills in Florida House, Senate pass key committee votes

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s new agriculture commissioner, Wilton Simpson, told News 6 he is confident legislation that will carry penalties for the use of so-called “gas pump manipulation devices,” will pass with full support by state lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis.

The devices are used to alter the price of diesel fuel at retail gas pumps. The bill would classify using the devices as second and third-degree felonies.

Simpson’s confidence was rewarded Wednesday afternoon as the Florida House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Economic Development unanimously approved HB 1307.

The mirror version of the measure, SB 1150, easily passed in the Florida Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism last week.

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“This clearly will have a large effect on the price of a gallon of fuel in the state of Florida, Simpson said, “At least 3, 4 cents a gallon, maybe more over time by stopping these thefts.”

Simpson said the long-term financial effect is Floridians could see an impact of hundreds of millions of dollars saved.

News 6 has worked closely with the Orlando Secret Service and investigators with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ criminal intelligence team to expose how the devices are used to alter the price of fuel by manipulating the pulsar, the mechanism inside the pump that reflects price per gallon.

“It was great reporting,” Simpson told News 6. “And it made it easy on us to put the legislation together, this was done very well, the work your station did, you in particular, really led the way.”

In an exclusive interview with News 6, Simpson said the long-term effect of the legislation will be impacted by the language of the law which anticipates future evolutions of the device by stressing “any device.”

Both SB 1150 and HB 1307 were crafted by Lt. Corey Kissinger of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services criminal intelligence division.

“We’ve done this in many other areas of the law over the last 5-10 years, Simpson said. “So we try to make this broad enough to give our law enforcement, Secret Service and other federal agencies the ability to be able to mutate with the other technologies so we don’t have to keep coming back to the legislature.”

Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes told News 6 the legislation is a “game changer” for law enforcement because it would provide a state law for agents to hold thieves accountable.

The veteran Secret Service agent has led a task force of federal, state and local agencies to track groups using the handmade devices to steal, then sell stolen diesel fuel for half the price.

“It’s word of mouth, kind of an apprentice system,” Fuentes said, “somebody shows somebody, who shows somebody else, who shows somebody else.”

Fuentes told News 6 intel in the field confirms there is no assembly line building the devices, “more like a homegrown factory.”

Simpson told News 6 “all those ingredients, reporting, and work by local, state and federal agencies were key.”

“Without all those components we couldn’t have gotten a bill like this together,” he said.

The bill will face two more committee votes in each chamber before going for a full vote in the house and senate.

If approved, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2023.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.