Oil thefts becoming an increasingly slippery slope for criminals in Luzerne County

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EXETER, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Police in Luzerne County are still searching for the second person involved in recent cooking oil thefts at local restaurants. B3Q in West Pittston and American Grill in Exeter were both targeted last week.

It’s not something many local residents think about: cooking oil and its value. But, the Luzerne County District Attorney says stealing cooking oil has become a growing problem in our area. Even grabbing the attention from the Attorney General.

Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce says used cooking oil is a precious commodity and thefts are on the rise.

“We’ve seen an extreme spike in thefts of used cooking oil,” Sanguedolce explained. “Which I know seems obscured at first but, we’ve actually learned that it’s quite valuable.”

The used oil is greasy gold for biodiesel companies as U.S. Agriculture Department data shows a 100-pound load of ‘yellow grease’ is worth $25.

But the value of used cooking oil doesn’t compare to an invasion of privacy at one of the latest restaurants hit with the crime.

“It’s more of an intrusion. Someone coming onto your property and taking something,” Trista Cruz said.

She and her husband Shaun own American Grill and they say it feels like someone is stealing their trash.

“The oil itself has little value to us personally. We get 30 cents on the gallon whereas we pay $1.25 to bring it in and use it. So what we get back from it is minimal,” said Cruz

The owners of American Grill said they have been hit before in August. Last week they were hit again, just an hour before B3Q was hit in West Pittston.

Sanguedolce tells Eyewitness News his office has received dozens of complaints over the past year.

“We had at that point I think 50-some cases. We referred them to the Attorney General who agreed to accept the investigation because it crosses county lines and it is in fact statewide,” Sanguedolce said.

One arrest was made Monday in connection to the thefts at American Grill and B3Q. 20-year-old Steven Caraballo Matos is facing numerous charges.

Sanguedolce adds stealing used cooking oil is an organized crime.

“Organized crime is a very specific set of circumstances called corrupt organizations and this is organized efficiently that I would think it qualifies,” said Sanguedolce.

Investigators say they still do not know where the van or the stolen cooking oil is. There was an accomplice in this case and that person has not been arrested at this time.

The Attorney General’s office told Eyewitness News late Tuesday afternoon they are aware of the increase in cooking oil thefts in our area.

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