“Used Cooking Oil Spawns Multi-State Black-Market Criminal Enterprises”

Where there are big bucks to be had …grease thieves get organized.  Even Homer tried to cash in.

U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. of Northern Carolina, handed down indictments on 21people for conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and money laundering.

Imagine what a lucrative source of added revenue Al Capone’s boys could have had as an add-on for their protection racquet for restaurants!

“Used cooking oil has become a sought-after commodity by biodiesel companies, and restaurants use the sale of this oil as another source of revenue,” said John Eisert, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte. “This team of co-conspirators had an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of gallons of cooking oil for their own profit in violation of several U.S. laws.”

Those suspects were identified as Kelvin Fe Arellano-Valencia, 19, of Raleigh; Samuel Cruz, 42, of Durham, Miguel Gutierrez, 24; Jaime Labra-Tovar, 23 and Ryan Mercado-Rodriguez, 24, all of Henderson; Hasan Ozvatan, 40, of Turkey; George Luis Morales, 21, of New York; Eric Evo, 24, of Richmond, Virginia; Juan Lopez-Posada, 40, of El Salvador; and Salvador Escalante, 43; Ruth Nava-Abarca, 29, Florentino Valencia-Tepoz, 47, Gregorio Vazquez-Castillo, 43; Juan de la Cruz-Gonzalez, 32; Oscar Ugalde-Escalante, 31; Emilio Gomez-Gonzalez, 36, Juan Maldonad-Hernandez, 28; Toribio Escalante-Campos, 59; Rene Espinoza-Torres, 45; Demetrio Valencia-Flores, 42, Alvaro Mendez-Flores, 38, all of Mexico.

Investigators said six of the suspects, Juan de la Cruz-Gonzalez, Rene Espinoza-Torres, Emilio Gomez-Gonzalez, Juan Maldonado-Hernandez, Ruth Nava-Abarca and Hasan Ozvatan were fugitives and were being sought by law enforcement officers.

Since 2013, grease thieves can face felony charges in N.C..  Rep. John Torbett (R) sponsored the bill that requires grease collectors to carry liability insurance.

The collectors also need to provide certain paperwork that establishes ownership of the used grease.

The law states that those who steal grease worth less than $1,000 would be guilty of a misdemeanor. Those who steal more than $1,000 worth of grease would be guilty of a low-level felony.

California has enacted special statutes to regulate grease collection from commercial kitchens.

But, even though law enforcement agencies, especially in California, have become increasingly watchful about the problem, the courts have lagged behind.

“It’s very difficult to get district attorneys to take it seriously,” said Douglas Hepper, head of the California state agency that regulates the disposal of grease. “They’re busy with murders and meth labs and they have limited budgets themselves, so they have to set priorities.”

It’s not an easy case to prosecute.  Most violators get off with a slap on the wrist.

The court, in its mind, has bigger fish to fry so to speak.

The rendering companies have been trying to lock down the growing theft of used grease, driven by demand for biodiesel.

Due to the lobbying efforts of the bigger players in the grease recycler industry, law enforcement is starting to take notice.

Randall C. Stuewe, chairman and chief executive of Darling International, the largest publicly traded rendering company in the United States, said it had recorded 100 arrests in 2011.   Companies like Darling, frustrated at the miniscule non-deterrent fines, are hiring attorneys to file civil lawsuits against grease thieves.

Greased Lighting does what it can to help deter a messy theft by grease thieves for their clients by being on time, regular and efficient.