Police: With arrest, county employee's fuel theft scheme runs out of gas

BEAUFORT -- A Beaufort County employee was charged Wednesday in the theft of more than $35,000 in diesel fuel from county-owned pumps in Burton and allegedly re-selling it to others, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies arrested 44-year-old Josephus Atkins Jr., and charged him with breach of trust with fraudulent intent. Atkins was being held in the Beaufort County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing Wednesday night. He could serve up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

An anonymous tip to the county's Public Works Department launched an internal investigation into fuel usage by Atkins. After noticing irregularities in the amount of fuel being used by Atkins, public works administrators notified law enforcement, according to the sheriff's office.

Atkins worked as a motor-grader operator. Deputies said 10,000 of the 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel taken by Atkins from county fuel pumps between March 1, 2007, and June 19, 2008, were taken for illegitimate use.

The sheriff's office said Atkins used his county-issued pickup, which holds 80 gallons of diesel, to take the fuel from the pumps, which he later sold to others.

Witnesses told investigators that Atkins sold the stolen fuel for as little as $1 a gallon in some cases, according to the sheriff's office.

One person has been identified by authorities as having purchased fuel from Atkins.

The sheriff's office is following up leads regarding others who may have had dealings with Atkins.