CHESTNUTHILL TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Pennsylvania State Police Fern Ridge are investigating multiple thefts of kitchen oil from at least five businesses in Monroe County.

Troopers say this has been going on since July of last year. It’s difficult to pinpoint when the thefts began because business owners don’t always notice right away and you’ll see why. But this doesn’t just affect restaurant owners, it’s a complex criminal operation that impacts the entire industry, including regular consumers.

“So they broke the lock and they left this open,” Avni Hoxha said.

Hoxha owns Bono Pizza in Chestnuthill Township. State police say thieves have been stealing the kitchen oil out of a vat behind his business for more than a year. They say the same thing is happening to four other restaurants in the township.

“I guess it’s more than one person who does it. The last time they did it, it was very noticeable because they left this open and the screen out. So I knew it was not the company that comes to pick up the oil, I knew that right away,” Hoxha said.

The New York-based company, Buffalo Biodiesel Inc., picks up the used cooking oil and converts it to biofuel that can be used for transportation, heating or cooking. The oil is removed for free, and Hoxha makes a small profit.

But thanks to rising gas prices, the value of biofuel has doubled from 25 cents a pound in 2020 to 50 cents a pound in 2021, according to the Department of Agriculture. Now thieves are stealing vast amounts of oil from countless restaurants and selling it for a pretty penny.

Law enforcement saw a rise in oil thefts across NEPA this past year, including dozens of restaurants in Luzerne County.

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

The black market is costing biofuel companies millions of dollars a year. If thieves create a scarcity, they can sell the oil to companies at a much higher price and that cost will eventually trickle down to the consumer.

The thefts haven’t really hurt Hoxha’s business, he’s worried about safety.

“It’s a panic situation if you come out and you see somebody doing it and you know it’s not the company who’s doing it,” Hoxha said.

Eyewitness News reached out to Buffalo Biodiesel and are awaiting their response. But this is obviously a huge problem for them. The company posts about these thefts on their social media several times a week.