Watford City man sentenced to seven years for stealing millions of dollars of oil

Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 12:24 PM CST
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MCKENZIE COUNTY, N.D. (KUMV) - Four men were arrested earlier this year for their involvement in an oil theft scheme. The one accused of leading the operation was in court Thursday to change his plea.

It’s unusual for remote oil rigs, isolated out on the North Dakota prairie, to be the scene of a crime, but not impossible. A four-man operation worked for more than a year to steal 2.4 million dollars of crude oil.

According to law enforcement, Darrell Merrell and Joseph Vandewalker would skim crude oil by manipulating the barrel counter while offloading, then deliver the leftover material to frack tanks south of Watford City. Mark McGregor handled transportation and housing of the oil, which was sold to a marketer by Michael Garcia. Garcia previously pled guilty to a theft of property charge in 2015.

“This isn’t his first A felony theft he’s pleading to, so he clearly didn’t learn the lesson last time,” said Ty Skarda, McKenzie County State’s Attorney.

This week, Garcia entered an open plea of guilty for conspiracy to commit theft and leading a criminal organization. A third charge of dealing with stolen property was dismissed. The prosecution wanted 20 years in prison with 13 suspended. Garcia’s attorney, Kevin Chapman, argued for no prison time because of injuries sustained during Garcia’s time in the Armed Forces.

“If Mr. Garcia didn’t have a significant head injury from the Iraq War, he would not be sitting next to me today. He would not have done whatever seven years ago,” said Chapman.

Despite that argument and several character witnesses, District Court Judge Robin Schmidt agreed with the state and sentenced him to seven years immediately.

“You received a slap on the wrist in 2015. That clearly did not work, or we would not be here today. You leave your lawyer with little argument to make with your history,” said Schmidt.

Garcia was also ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution to the oilfield company.

At the end of sentencing, Garcia shouted expletives at several detectives in the courtroom.