Grease Thieves

John Colapino reports that used commercial cooking oil has quickly gone from being a cheap additive for animal feed to a sought-after component of biofuels – and thieves are taking notice:

A decade ago, used grease traded on the Chicago commodities exchange for less than eight cents a pound. Now it can go for more than four times that price, providing criminals with a potent incentive to get at spent oil before renderers do. Thieves use bolt cutters to remove locks on container lids or cut through vacuum hoses to suck grease into tanker trucks. A thief driving down a strip-mall alleyway can collect four thousand dollars’ worth in half an hour.

Like other big renderers, Dar Pro has turned to security firms to protect its grease. In 2012, [C.E.O. Randall] Stuewe hired Total Compliance Associates, a Manhattan-based firm headed by Stuart GraBois, a former US assistant district attorney, and Mike Ferrandino, a former F.B.I. supervisor. When I visited the firm’s offices, in a Times Square high-rise, GraBois, elegantly dressed, white-haired man, admitted that he was nonplussed when he got the call from Dar Pro. “I thought, ‘Grease?’” he said laughing. “I didn’t want to say ‘Who cares?’ – but grease? Then you find out what a huge business it is, and how much they’re losing.”

In the past two years, GraBois and Ferrandino have pursued more than a hundred grease cases, using classic crime-busting techniques: surveillance and stakeouts, undercover operations, stings, hidden camera. They still struggle to persuade law enforcement officials to take grease theft seriously, but GraBois insisted that they’re making headway. “You speak to a prosecutor a year ago,” he said, “and it’s like, ‘What are you calling me about?’” Now I think it’s reached a point where they’re believing that it’s real.”