Restaurants and businesses across the nation have been reporting a rise in thefts of used cooking oil, which is sold to processors who turn it into a bio-fuel, which is used in cosmetics and animal feed to name just a few of its applications. These thefts have also been taking place at local restaurants in Marlborough and Highland.
Marlborough Police Chief Gerald Cocozza said he received a letter from a Buffalo-based company, Biodiesel, alerting him to these thefts. He said his department has not caught any of the perpetrators.
“I can tell you the theft of cooking oil is [done] by a very large ring and they have made individual arrests but they believe it’s either a gang or by some sort of organized crime group, something like that,” he said. “It’s happening in lots of places, all over Ulster County and other counties as well; it’s huge.”
Cocozza said their modus operandi is, “to show up with vans or U-Hauls, cut the locks and pump out the [storage] tanks and then they disappear and they usually do it in the wee hours of the night. We are looking and trying to thwart this but a lot of time the regular [legit] companies come at off-hours as well, so it’s difficult.”
Cocozza said the investigation of these thefts is “constantly ongoing.” He noted that the Ship Lantern Inn in Milton is not the first victim but the Brix Restaurant in Marlboro has also been hit several times.
Cocozza said thieves off load what they steal to refineries who turn it into bio-diesel.
“I don’t know how much they get when the sell it, but I can tell you it’s a huge problem, so they must be making decent money on the black market,” he said.
Lloyd Police Chief James Janso said this is also a problem in his town.
“Over the last two years we’ve had half a dozen incidents. Brennie’s Pizzeria and Sal’s Place both got hit a couple of times,” he said. “I know the State Police made an arrest in Esopus of an individual for stealing oil up there and the Town of Ulster Police arrested a few individuals within the last six months for doing it. It’s a gang that goes around from town to town siphoning the oil out. They have U-Haul trucks with pumps and barrels in them and they pump out the oil and then they go back to the city and resell it down there.”
Chief Janso said he has not heard whether the resale point has been discovered, “but I’m sure they [police] are inundated with complaints down there too.”
Janso said those who get caught and arrested are not going to say anything.
“They’re basically thieves in the night,” he said. “If we catch them, it’s petty larceny, a misdemeanor, and nobody is going to jail for that anymore so there is no reason to give up any information if you know you’re not going to jail.”
Janso said anything over $1,000 makes it a felony, “so you’ve got to prove that what the oil is worth at a market level, but $1,000 of oil is probably a lot of poundage of oil. It’s such an unknown type of theft that you can’t pinpoint where it’s going and what group is doing it. They send people up from the New York City and if they get arrested they send another crew back up to do it again because they know they’re not going to jail. You have to catch them in the act of actually stealing the oil or locate the oil in a truck and you have to prove that the oil was stolen from a business or from a location.”
Janso said catching them in the act may allow for more charges to be brought against an individual or individuals.
“It could be Grand Larceny or Trespassing because they’re on private property, so there is a whole different amount of charges you can levy on them if you actually catch them on the scene.”
Janso suspects the money they make from the cooking oil must be pretty good.
“It’s so rampant around the area that it’s hard to look at individuals and find out what their patterns are, who they’re working for or where they’re going with it. You’ve got to catch them and hopefully tie them to other ones in the area and maybe hang more charges on them,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but where there is money to be made, criminals will be there.”