Used cooking oil is a hot commodity. It’s recycled into diesel fuel. The used cooking oil market was a global, $6 billion industry last year and growing fast, with prices rising 80 percent in 2020, to 66 cents a pound. Thieves are catching on.
A Pennsylvania man was arrested Sunday morning in Scotrun, Pa., syphoning a restaurant’s oil into a U-Haul. Two residents in Younkers, N.Y., were charged for the same crime this week, after stealing from a restaurant’s oil vats in late September. Same story in Massachusetts’ Berkshires last week. And in England and in South Africa.
And now in Palm Coast.
Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Kyle Gaddie was patrolling Flagler Plaza before dawn this morning when he noticed a white box truck parked behind Woody’s BBQ. He also noticed a man with a headlamp bopping around in the same area. He then saw the man pull the truck into a fenced-in area, and another man extend a hose from the back of the truck before activating a pump.
“I knew from my training and experience cooking oil thefts were commonly conducted with unmarked vehicles at unusual business hours,” Gaddie wrote in his arrest reports–the affidavit that soon would charge Rui Gn Lin, 48, of St. Johns County and fellow-traveler Rong Chen, 41, of Gainesville, with two felony counts of burglary each, and petit theft.
The truck wasn’t only unmarked: its Department of Transportation identification number was removed.
Lin and Chen were pumping oil into their truck when Gaddie spoke to them. Lin, presenting a driver’s license, told him he works for a Miami-based biodiesel company called Green Star Biodiesel.
That did not account for the sign clearly posted behind Woody’s, by the used oil: “This container and its contents are private property of Dar Pro Ingredients pursuant to an exclusive contract with the restaurant owner. We will prosecute anyone who tampers with, removes any of the contents from, or damages this container. We provide service with uniformed drivers and clearly marked company trucks. We DO NOT use subcontractors.”
It’s not a quiet operation. The pump roars like a power generator.
“Hello!” Gaddie said cheerily as he approached the men who, based on body cam footage, looked unmoved by the deputy’s presence. They carried on their work until the deputy pressed them for their identification.
Neither men before Gaddie appeared to be Dar Pro employees. A 1,000-gallon plastic drum was in back of the 2015 Isuzu truck, almost at capacity. Two 250-gallon drums behind it were full. The men’s pump seemed appropriately named for the occasion. It was a Predator brand.
“Next to the pump, I observed bolt cutters, a hammer, and a crowbar covered in oil towels and partially concealed,” Gaddie reported. “I observed several industrial-grade locks, commonly used to lock oil containers and gates, with the tools covered by towels.”
Contacted at home, Woody’s long-time owner, Matt Crews, told the deputy there were no scheduled pick-ups for the used oil, nor had anyone permission to be within the gates. Lin claimed he was picking up the oil on orders from his boss, pointing to a message thread in his phone headed by the names “Russell Oil.” The deputy saw a message telling Lin to send notification once the poil was collected. But beyond that, Lin would not disclose anything else.
Both men were arrested.
The arrest report estimates that there were 8,000 pounds of cooking oil in the truck, “by the tank size.” But if the tanks totaled 1,500 gallons and were at or near capacity, the weight in pounds would be closer to 12,500 pounds. A 55-gallon drum of canola oil was selling for just over $700 at Central Foods, a wholesaler, today. Assuming the deputy’s estimate of the size of the drums inside the truck is correct (the estimate may be on the high side), that would equate to a value of about $8,000 at the 66-cents-a-pound price cited by Insider last year.
“This kind of crime is why we conduct business checks on closed businesses,” Sheriff Rick Staly was quoted as saying in a release. “With the price of oil rising, the theft of used cooking oil is increasing across the country. This was a great job by Deputy Kyle Gaddie for seeing something suspicious while on patrol and stopping to check it out.”
There are no indications that the fries will be any less crispy at Woody’s.
Any local restaurants missing used cooking oil should call our dispatch center at 386-313-4911 to file a report as
detectives continue the investigation.
Who would have thunk it? 40 years ago we had problems with restaurants dumping used cooking oil in waterways and in vacant lots; today they can sell it and recoup some of their expenses. And then the used oil buyer can make a profit selling it to a recycler for me to burn in my tractor. Brother, the times they are a-changin’. (Bob Dylan – don’t want to run amiss of the plagiarism police)
Thank you FCSO, crime is crime. Always warms my heart when I see you patrolling, who knew that stealing grease from a grease trap was a thing. Truly appreciate all that you do.
America First 81 says
More SHIT4BRAINS Crooks are now the ‘Green Room’ because of a Very Alert !Deputy!
Great catch guys!!!!
How low can you go???????????
That’s great that the used cooking oil is recycled so to speak. I would have assumed that Woody’s paid to have used cooking oil hauled away and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
Is there a market for used motor oil? My car seems to be a quart low for some mysterious reason.
Pretty slick operation.