Thieves stealing cooking oil for quick cash: Investigators say San Diego restaurants being targeted

SAN DIEGO - 10News has learned out-of-town thieves are flocking to San Diego to strike oil: cooking oil.

Local restaurants and businesses have become a hotbed for cooking grease theft. That is because the yellow grease can be sold and refined to make biodiesel fuel.

It is a crime that has been a big gang problem in Los Angeles and Orange County, but recyclers are noticing an uptick in the bizarre thefts in San Diego.

"The other day we had a guy drive down from Disneyland to offer a grease trap service so he can get the oil," explained Dan Stonesifer, the president of San Diego Fats, Oil and Grease Haulers Association. "The thieves will go into the recycle containers and bust them open, and pump out the oil. It's happening in the middle of the night."

The waste oil can be sold for $2.40 to $2.50 a gallon, a commodity for crooks looking for quick cash. However, the crime can also devastate the environment. 

"When thieves are stealing this oil, some of the collateral damage is [the suspects] spilling it. Naturally, it goes down the drain, into the gutters and sewers," said Jeff Miller, a criminal investigator with the San Diego County's District Attorney's office. "It's become more prevalent in the last year."

Stealing recycled oil is a misdemeanor, though a second offense could lead to jail time. 

"Crooks pull a truck up, break the lock on a container or cut a hole in a container, and can pump hundreds of gallons into a container in just a few minutes," added Steve Walker, the communications director with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office. "Our Environment Crimes Unit has alerted law enforcement to be on the lookout."

Stonesifer says licensed haulers always display a state decal on the front window of the vehicle, and is typically marked with a business name and contact information.

If you have an inedible kitchen grease theft to report, you can call (855) HIT-GREASE.

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