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Two more men were picked up this week for allegedly stealing used cooking oil from restaurants across Long Island, a crime flourishing over the past couple months.
Police say Melvin Howell and Rodney Lofton were spotted stealing oil and reported to Nassau County authorities, who caught up to their white box truck and arrested the pair after a traffic stop.
Howell and Lofton, of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, have been allegedly linked to at least nine thefts at the following locations:
- Leonard’s Palazzo – 5565 Northern Boulevard, Great Neck
- Stresa Restaurant – 1524 Northern Boulevard, Manhasset
- IHOP- 1586 Northern Boulevard, Manhasset
- Monster Crab – 242 Voice Road, Carle Place
- Fyhre Hibachi Sushi Lounge Restaurant – 246 Voice Road, Carle Place
- Mint – 1 Ring Road West, Garden City
- The Cheesecake Factory – 1504 Old Country Road, Westbury
- Chick-fil-A – 1530 Old Country Road, Westbury
- Benihana Restaurant – 920 Merchants Concourse, Westbury
Their arrests came two days after police picked up Hector Castrol-Espinal, of Woodside, and charged him with siphoning used oil from the same Chick-fil-A location in Huntington Station at least five times this year.
So what makes the grease — which would seem to be something restaurants are looking to get rid of anyway — so special? Used cooking oil has become a hot commodity on the black market, putting hundreds of restaurants at risk.
Taqi Mohammad stores the used cooking oil in barrels outside his Indian restaurant. He says he can’t understand why anyone would steal it.
“We make curry. It’s gonna stink. Why you want to be near oil that stinks?” he asked.
But Suffolk police said that thieves have recently made it a priority to steal used cooking oil from restaurants. What makes it valuable is that it can be reprocessed into renewable diesel or biodiesel fuel. It’s also used in cosmetics and animal feed.
The robbers can bring a van with a barrel of some kind in the back, then fill the barrel up with the oil and take it to a reprocessing place, according to Suffolk County police. There have been possibly more than 100 cases of stealing used cooking oil across Suffolk County in 2023, police said.
“It has a lot of value what we call ‘liquid gold,'” said Patrick McCall, who works as an investigator for cooking oil companies to curb restaurant thefts.
Police are asking restaurant owners to increase security around their oil tanks. Mohammad says from now on, he plans to take that advice seriously.
“If it is something hazardous, I should put a lock on it,” he said.
Attorney information for the arrested men was not immediately known.
Long Island Serial Cooking Oil Thieves Busted Friday – NBC New York
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