Police woke a sleeping lorry driver in his cab who was “completely unaware” men were siphoning diesel from his tank in a layby on the A17.
Officers spotted a Peugeot parked behind the lorry at Long Sutton on August 14.
It smelled strongly of diesel, had a number of plastic containers inside and a pipe led from the car to the lorry’s fuel tank, Spalding magistrates heard.
About a third of the tank was siphoned, but no value for the fuel was given to the court.
Jim Clare, prosecuting, said no-one was with the Peugeot but Evaldas Zbormirskiz was parked up in a green VW Passat a little further up the road.
Mr Clare said Zbormirskiz drove off but then passed the lorry again, causing the officers to be somewhat suspicious.
His car was stopped and he had a number of 25 litre plastic containers matching those inside the Peugeot.
Police went to the home of the Peugeot’s registered keeper – Marius Dailedenas – and found more of the plastic containers.
Mr Clare said both men denied knowledge of the incident and claimed they didn’t know each other.
But a check on their mobile phones showed each man had the other’s phone number although no calls had been made.
Zbormirskiz (39), of Seagate Terrace, Long Sutton, denied stealing fuel belonging to Peter Harper and Sons, but was convicted last month after a trial.
At Thursday’s resumed hearing, he was sentenced to a six-month community order with 80 hours’ unpaid work.
He must also pay £300 costs.
The court heard Zbormirskiz maintained he was innocent of the theft and was going to appeal against his conviction.
Mr Clare told the court his co-defendant may have flown back to his home country.
Solicitor Mark Hudson, mitigating, said: “Mr Zbormirskiz has maintained his innocence during interview and during his trial.”
Mr Hudson said the evidence against him was circumstantial, but the magistrates’ colleagues had put all the circumstances together and decided he must be guilty.
Zbormirskiz was parked further up than the lorry and there were containers in his car “similar to those that were in the Peugeot”.
Mr Hudson said the evidence showed there was no telephone contact between Zbormirskiz and other man.
Probation officer Angela Jones told the court: “This matter does go back to August last year so clearly he is not someone who has troubled the court on a regular basis.”