ST. PAUL, Minn - The saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and when it comes to cooking oil, that couldn’t be more true.
According to a search warrant filed by St. Paul Police, a duo was recently spotted stealing hundreds of dollars’ worth of grease from a local restaurant.
While cooking oil doesn’t sound like the most obvious black market item, experts say, there is a lot of money in the greasy loot.
“A 500 gallon tank of oil is worth hundreds of dollars,” said Dan McElroy of the Minnesota Restaurant Association.
The reason for the high price is the used oil can see a second life as biodiesel or animal feed.
The alleged heist took place on the early morning of July 22nd, when a Sanimax driver, in an 18-wheel semi-truck, stopped behind the Peking Garden on West University in St. Paul to pick up and recycle the restaurant’s used oil.
The driver was surprised to find 35-year-old Yong Chen, and another man, were already helping behind Peking Garden filling a box truck with the oil. The search warrant goes on to say when to pair saw the Sanimax driver they took off.
After alerting the State Patrol, the Sanimax driver caught up the box truck driven by the two oil thieves while driving westbound on I-94. The driver then called another co-worker who was able to catch up to the trucks while they were heading west on I-394 near Highway 100. The two Sanimax semis were then able to get the truck to stop and all three trucks waited for the authorities to arrive.
When the State Patrol got on scene, they were able to determine that Chen and his associate were carrying over $1,000 worth of oil in the truck.
Both men were then placed under arrest.
Chen is no stranger to stealing cooking oil. Minneapolis Police arrested him in April for stealing grease from Conga Latin Bistro in Northeast Minneapolis.
McElroy says people targeting grease traps for profit isn’t new.
“We've been hearing about it for a number of years,” he said. “We're happy to work with the grease haulers to see if we can find a way to fix this.”
Since the restaurants sell the grease to the haulers, who in turn sell it to a variety of businesses, these thefts take a toll on both businesses.
“It's stealing their merchandise, their profit margin and their jobs,” McElroy said.
McElroy said a way to help stop this kind of theft it to report suspicious activity to police. Especially if you see unmarked vans at odd hours emptying grease traps.