YAPHANK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Call it “liquid gold.” It’s as valuable to thieves as copper.
It’s a commodity so valuable it is being stolen by the gallon.
A Yonkers couple was arrested Sunday on Long Island after police said they stole hundreds of gallons of used cooking oil from restaurants.
Steve Parisi, who runs a company called Environmental Services, Inc. in Yaphank, explained to CBS 2’s Matt Kozar why the cooking oil is so valuable.
“If we don’t have the oil, we can’t make the bio-fuel,” Parisi said.
Parisi said he turns used vegetable oil into bio-diesel, an environmentally friendly fuel, adding he pays restaurants for their oil, which they store in barrels.
But it turns out thieves have been stealing the barrels before Parisi’s crews can pick them up.
“These thieves have been popping up all over the place now because there’s a value that’s known,” Parisi said.
On Sunday, Suffolk County police arrested 40-year-old Domingo Santos and his 31-year-old girlfriend, Vanessa Liriano.
At around 8 a.m., an officer driving to work spotted a 2004 Ford van at the New Grand Buffet on Veterans Memorial Highway that had been used at other oil-theft locations throughout Suffolk County, police said.
He then saw Santos taking used cooking oil from an oil canister from behind a Chinese buffet in Islandia, police said.
The couple had about 650 gallons of used cooking oil in their possession,worth more than $2,000, police said.
The oil, worth about $3 per gallon, can be resold on the black market to other refineries.
So how are the thieves stealing the vegetable oil? They’re either cutting a lock to get the top of the barrel off, or they’re cutting a hole through a metal grate and then using a tube to suck the oil out. Kozar reported.
“A lot of times we’ll see these coming from as far as Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut, traveling two to three hours each way to steal used cooking oil,” private investigator Patrick McCall said. “They know Long Island is made up of shopping centers with multiple food establishments in each shopping center.”
And the theft is hurting business owners like Christopher Schimkus, who runs New York Bagel Company in Islandia.
“It’s something coming in and we try to stay on top of it as much as we can,” Schimkus said.
He said the money he gets makes a difference.
And it’s getting drained from him by thieves — one siphon at a time.
Santos and Liriano were each charged with 16 counts of petit larceny, one count possession of stolen property and one count of burglars tools. Santos was also charged with one count criminal possession of marijuana.
Both were due in court later Monday.
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