Cooking oil — it’s the stuff that makes your fried chicken and French fries so tasty. But who knew that grease can actually be liquid gold for thieves?
It can be resold and recycled for use in all kinds of things, from pet foods to perfume, making it a valuable restaurant byproduct. And authorities say that value is also making it a target for organized crime rings that make millions pumping used cooking oil out of special grease bins behind most restaurants.
“Cooking oil is very valuable, I can’t say how valuable enough it is,” Joe Buonavolante, co-owner of the popular Chicago chain of Buona restaurants, told Inside Edition.
But thieves stealing grease across the country now have a target on their backs in the form of a private industry task force nicknamed the “grease police.” It’s led by former Texas police officer Frank Scoggins.
“There's so many thieves in some areas it's just impossible to secure these lids,” Scoggins told Inside Edition.
He and his team were hired by Darling Ingredients, also known as DAR PRO Solutions, after tons of used cooking oil they refine and resell was getting swindled from their grease bins around the country.
Inside Edition investigative producer Charlie McLravy was invited along to see the grease police in action.
“This happens lightning fast,” McLravy said as they watched one alleged thief operating outside Chicago.
“Yeah, he came in here, he wasn’t here just a few minutes and he's skimming, he's getting straight oil, so he pumped about six inches,” Scoggins said.
The grease police tailed him as he made stop after stop to suck up grease. His route took him some 150 miles, all the way from Chicago to Holland, Michigan.
"This looks like this is about the eighth container he's hit today,” Scoggins said.
The grease police waited for him as he walked out of a gas station. When Inside Edition tried to speak with him, he denied he had been stealing grease all day. So the grease police called in the real police. They stopped his truck and put him in cuffs.
Altogether, Scoggins said he observed the guy suck up nearly 500 gallons of grease, with a total value of $1,000.
“I want the thieves to know if you're coming out to steal used cooking oil, we’re coming after you, we're gonna get you,” Scoggins said.
The alleged thief bonded out of jail, but police say he then skipped his court arraignment. Now there is an active warrant out for his arrest.