He won't fry for this, but a Long Island man faces potential penalties of up to two years behind bars after he allegedly stole a large quantity of cooking oil from an Orangeburg restaurant, police said.
Anthony Richards, 24, of Seaford, was charged with the misdemeanors of petty larceny and possession of stolen property, Orangetown police Sgt. Robert Ruggiero said in a statement Wednesday.
Orangetown police received reports from an investigator working for Dar Pro Solutions, a recycling consultant that handles cooking oil removal for numerous local restaurants, that there had been a rash of thefts of used oil in the area.
The investigator set up video surveillance behind the Planet Wings restaurant at the Orangetown Shopping Center, police said. Richards pulled up about 8 a.m. Monday and vacuumed 127 gallons of used cooking oil into an oil recycling truck he was driving, police said.
The oil containers were clearly marked "Property of Dar Pro" and Richards had no authority to remove the oil, police said. He was arrested and his truck was impounded.
Calls to Orangetown police were not immediately returned Wednesday.
It was at least the second Rockland County cooking oil bust in recent weeks. On Jan. 10, Suffern police charged a Yonkers man and two Brooklyn men after they allegedly stole nearly 100 gallons of oil from Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern.
The thieves likely stole the fluid because it can be brought to a facility and turned into biofuel, Suffern police Chief Clark Osborn told News12.
"There's definitely a large black market for this item," Osborn said.
Cooking oil thefts have been a growing problem in recent years, a consultant for Dar Pro said.
"It's outrageous what's going on nationwide," said Stuart GraBois, a former federal prosecutor. "We are trying to educate local police departments and authorities on the seriousness of this problem."
Processed fryer oil, known as yellow grease, has spiked in value as a commodity over the years with rising gas prices and the increased demand for biofuels. In 2000, a pound of yellow grease traded for 7.6 cents per pound; by April 2012 it was 33 cents per pound, or $2.50 per gallon, according to the website of the Mount Vernon-based firm American Alternative Energy.
The market value of the oil Richards is charged with stealing is $334, Orangetown police said, or $2.62 per gallon.
"It's very simple for a thief to go into business," GraBois said. "All they need is a van and some bolt cutters. They just break the lock and funnel out the grease, or sometimes they take the whole tank.
"Your overhead is nothing unless you get picked up by the police."
Just as with scrap metal thefts, which have soared in recent years, the cooking oil black market is abetted by look-the-other-way middlemen who offer cash on the barrelhead for the oil and then sell it to biofuel processors, GraBois said.
"There's no difference between going to a cooking oil recipient who's a fence and going to a jewelry recipient who's a fence," GraBois said. "You can see ads in magazines that say, 'We'll take oil, no question asked.'
Richards was released on an appearance ticket and is to appear in Orangetown Town Court on Feb. 6.
It wasn't immediately clear if Richards had a lawyer. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a woman answering the phone at his home identified herself as his mother, Diane, and said Richards had a verbal agreement with the restaurant to remove the oil.
"He was just doing his job," she said. "He was very taken aback and very upset."
A message left Wednesday at Planet Wings in Orangeburg was not immediately returned.