BUTLER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Two New York men are locked up Thursday on theft-related charges. This was after an early morning incident in Luzerne County involving the alleged attempt to steal used cooking oil.

Eyewitness News has been reporting on the thefts of used cooking oil from area businesses, namely restaurants in our region, for the past year or so.

But police say a theft was prevented Thursday morning thanks to the quick action by a business owner.

That business owners tells Eyewitness News he could not believe what he was seeing on his security cameras early this morning.

He took action and police say that helped prevent a crime.

“I was in bed and I started to get notifications on my phone that my surveillance cameras were going off. I couldn’t imagine what was going on,” said Aaron McGeehan, owner of A.M. Auto Plus.

Aaron McGeehan describes his early morning wake-up call Thursday morning.

He owns A.M. Auto Plus, a car detailing business in Butler Township near Hazleton.

“I went on my phone I looked at it and there was a white van you know parked exactly where we’re standing,” said McGeehan.

He saw two men prowling around the back of the building. He called 911 who connected him with the police.

“They asked if I’d be able to send them some video surveillance, and I did that immedialtely you know. I gave them a rough description of what they looked like you know in the video. That all stemmed back, you know, they were able to make an arrest,” McGeehan explained.

A short time later, police stopped the white van on Interstate 80 and took 31 year old Elvin Tavarez Mendez and 29 year old Cristian Alexis Payano-Rommero both from the Bronx, New York, into custody.

Investigators say they admitted they were looking to steal used cooking oil they saw oil barrels near the McGeehan’s business.

“Originally I thought they were here for catalytic converters. There’s a restaurant upstairs here in the gas station so it’s hard to say what they were here for,” McGeehan continued.

Police say they knew within seconds what their motive was.

“When the vehicle was stopped the officer noted that it was also leaking oil from the back of it,” said Butler Township Police Chief William Feissner.

You can see the oil that leaked from the van as it was being towed into the police impound yard and police found inside the van an oil draining system with two large tanks.

“We believe there’s probably close to 500 gallons of cooking oil in the back of the van,” Chief Feissner said.

So why is used cooking oil such a hot commodity? It can be used in a wide variety of products.

Eyewitness News spoke to an industry expert whose business specializes in collecting and selling used cooking oil.

“The oil is typically sold to refineries. It can be used for cosmetics, it could be used for animal feed, but primarily now the stolen oil is used by refineries, which are producing either renewable diesel or biodiesel,” said Sumit Majumdar, President of Buffalo Biodiesel.

Mendez and Payano Romera did say they stole cooking oil in our area but would not say from what location.

Eyewitness News is told that thieves can make anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a day stealing and selling stolen used cooking oil and there is a large demand on the black market, mainly because of the increase in fuel prices around the world.