Where there’s money to be made, there’s crime, and it seems that a new scheme has been cooked up in Pasco and beyond.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office arrested two men Thursday accused of stealing used restaurant cooking grease.
Why would anyone want used cooking grease?
Because of its use in making biofuel, restaurant owners now sell the grease to generate additional income, Sheriff Chris Nocco said during a press conference Friday.
Thefts of the grease, worth more than $1.50 per gallon, could amount to thousands of dollars in losses for businesses, which, in this economy, could mean the difference between staying open and shutting their doors for good, Nocco said.
And the bust, Nocco said, is thanks to the agency's new intelligence-led policing philosophy.
Pasco Deputy Hope Sullenberger submitted a tip to the agency’s intelligence-led policing unit after responding to a report of oil theft from restaurant earlier in the month. At a press conference Friday, Sullenberger said she knew from other sources it was a statewide issue, which is what prompted her to submit the information for analysis. That analysis generated enough information to generate an intelligence bulletin on April 20.
That bulletin was fresh in Cpl. Micheal Toczylowski’s mind during his routine road patrol early Thursday morning.
It was a slow night, so Toczylowski was patrolling strip malls and restaurant parking lots when he came across a truck behind a Chili’s in Hudson at about 2:30 a.m April 26.
The truck took off as soon as he approached, which drew his suspicion. He followed the truck, and eventually pulled them over for speeding, he said.
The grease was still dripping off the side of the truck, he said.
"It was a great catch and good for the investigation that is still ongoing,” Toczylowski said. “If I hadn’t received that bulletin, I wouldn’t have known what to look for.”
Stealing restaurant grease has become a highly lucrative business, Lt. Brian Prescott of the intelligence-led police unit said.
“Our information suggests … this is a highly organized criminal venture,” Prescott said.
When the grease is stolen, the entire vat is not typically emptied, so it is difficult for business owners to identify when they’ve been victimized, Nocco said.
Pasco County had had several locations hit, and "we think a lot has gone unreported, as well," Nocco said.
Anyone with information or who sees suspicious activity is asked to notify the sheriff’s office at 727-847-5878.
“Whether it’s guns, gold or grease, we’re going to do what we can to protect our citizens,” Prescott said.