ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Used cooking oil theft has become an increasingly common occurrence in the Capital Region. That’s something both Bob Skinner, who works on theft prevention for Western Mass Rendering Company, and Sumit Majumdar, the president of Buffalo Biodiesel, would have to agree on.
Both Western Mass and Buffalo Biodiesel recycle used cooking oil. Buffalo Biodiesel, operated out of Buffalo, N.Y., sells biodiesel to companies, as well as yellow grease for companies to produce biodiesel themselves.
Both companies supply their restaurant customers with vats to keep the used grease in. The vats are kept locked outside in the back of the restaurant. Drivers for each company will then come and pick up the used oil at their respective restaurants.
Skinner covers Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, eastern New York, and southern New Hampshire and Vermont. He said Western Mass has about 10,000 customers in that area.
Used cooking oil theft is rampant throughout the Northeast, said Skinner, but especially in New York’s Capital Region. “The Albany area is getting hit real heavy,” he said.
According to Majumdar, about 96% of the cooking oil thefts reported to Buffalo Biodiesel are in the Capital Region. “In particular, the Albany area is the worst. Everywhere else seems to be fine,” he said.
As of November 17, Buffalo Biodiesel had 440 reported cooking oil thefts since January, said Majumdar. Break-ins are up 30% from last year, and he expects this to go up to 50% in 2023.
His company picks up oil from more than 300 locations and about 50% are being broken into. “It’s organized crime,” said Majumdar. These thieves are making thousands of dollars a night from stealing the cooking oil, he added.
Skinner said Western Mass loses about $1 million a year from cooking oil thefts. He said these thieves come up from downstate New York, steal the cooking oil, and sell it on the black market. They make upwards of $1,500 a night. Western Mass pays restaurants $100 per 300-gallon tank, said Skinner.
Many of his customers have their own security cameras, said Skinner, but 15 to 20 restaurants where cooking oil is frequently stolen had cameras installed by the company which he monitors, including at Paesans Pizza in Latham. Skinner said he called Colonie Police on November 14 after he saw a theft on camera.
The Colonie Police Department confirmed to NEWS10 that officers did arrest two people at Paesan’s in Latham on that day. Officers have arrested people in at least three separate incidents in the past year at that location, said Lieutenant Daniel Belles.
Since he monitors these cameras, Skinner said a lot of these thieves do get arrested by police. However, they are quickly released and do it again, said Skinner.
Frank Scavio, the owner of Paesan’s Pizza, said his Latham location had had its cooking oil stolen over a dozen times this year. This is the second time within a week that this shop has been hit, said Scavio.
Scavio said he gets paid 82 cents per gallon by Western Mass, but said one of the men accused of stealing his cooking oil admitted to getting paid $3 per gallon for the same oil. If his oil gets stolen, Scavio doesn’t get paid.
Belles said Colonie Police have had dozens of reported thefts so far this year. The November 14 theft from Paesan’s was witnessed in progress, so officers were able to make a quick arrest.
“Unfortunately, most of the time, these thefts are reported well after the crime may have been committed, sometimes even months later, with little or no leads to follow up on,” said Belles “This makes it difficult to investigate.”
According to Belles, these thieves typically drive box trucks or work vans with pumps or hoses inside that can easily transfer the oil to an onboard holding tank. They’re usually charged with petit larceny or possession of stolen property, which are both misdemeanors. The accused are then immediately released on appearance tickets.
“Most of these collection bins are outdoors with open access to the public, so it is difficult to charge these actors with more serious offenses,” said Belles. “To further complicate matters, if an individual is found to be in possession of stolen oil, it can be very difficult to say exactly how much was stolen, and from where it was stolen.”
Majumdar is, in part, blaming Capital Region law enforcement agencies for these thefts. “Law enforcement is turning a blind eye,” said Majumdar. “A lot of police departments are not even taking reports.”
“Someone is going to end up dying,” said Majumdar, adding that one of his customers got run over after confronting someone who was stealing their cooking oil.
Buffalo Biodiesel sends out eight to nine letters to police departments, district attorney’s offices, the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor after each cooking oil theft, said Majumdar. His company has sent out about 30,000 to 40,000 letters just this year.
Majumdar has gone as far as hiring a data analyst to look at crime patterns in these areas. He’s also offered to install cameras at all of the restaurants where his drivers pick up cooking oil.
Buffalo Biodiesel has been posting on its Facebook and Twitter pages every time one of its drivers reports an oil theft. The company also tags the local police department, local district attorney’s office, and New York State Attorney General’s Office in the post to try and gain their attention, said Majumdar.
These are just some of the recent Capital Region cooking oil thefts reported on the Buffalo Biodiesel social media pages:
- Testo’s Restaurant in Troy, September 17
- Bamboo Restaurant in Guilderland, October 5
- West Avenue Pizzeria in Saratoga Springs, November 14
- Szechuan Empire in Ravena, November 14
- Trackside Pizza in Ravena, November 14
- Ravena Pizza in Ravena, November 14
- Marco’s Diner and Restaurant in Ravena, November 14
- Friendly Pizza & Deli in Selkirk, November 14
- Illusive Restaurant and Bar in Rensselaer, November 12
- Ipek’s La Bella Pizza in East Greenbush, November 12
- Elia’s Pizza in East Greenbush, November 12
- Mercato’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Castleton-on-Hudson, November 12
- Star 1 Market in Albany, November 11
- Sun Fai Chinese Restaurant in Menands, November 11
- Miami Market in Albany, November 11
- Chicken Joes in Albany, November 11
- Brasserie Benelux in Saratoga Springs, November 11
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said his office hasn’t had to deal with any instances of cooking oil thefts and many times they happen in Colonie. If his deputies catch anyone stealing used cooking oil, said Apple, they will be arrested. He said thieves have been stealing lots of things including mowers, trailers, and cooking oil because they believe nothing will happen to them.
In regards to cooking oil thefts, the Albany Police Department said, “We’ve had several reported incidents in the City of Albany which remain under investigation. Anyone with information is always urged to call our detectives.”
NEWS10 also reached out to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which did not give us a comment but instead referred us to the local District Attorney’s Office.
“As far as prevention goes, that’s a front-end issue for police departments,” said the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. “I’m not familiar with any repeat offenders that have been prosecuted.”
There are indoor used cooking grease tanks that many fast-food restaurants use, said Skinner, which would help prevent thefts. However, these tanks cost around $6,000 and many local restaurants can’t afford them.
“Needless to say, this is an ongoing issue that we are attempting to monitor and investigate,” said Belles. “There is no clear solution for business owners, aside from attempting to secure these collection containers in a better way and to have near-constant monitoring of their cameras.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Scavio. “How many times are we going be a victim before we take the law into our own hands?”