Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deputies Outslick Grease Thieves

Shortly before noon Tuesday two men parked a green truck in back of Long John Silver’s restaurant, 3015 U.S. 41 E. in East Naples, armed with a tank and a hose.

The men dunked the hose into a large container and vacuumed out 150 gallons of used food grease.

They got inside the truck and drove a short distance to Wendy’s, 2601 U.S. 41 E., where they siphoned about 100 gallons of grease from the tank located behind the restaurant.

Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies caught the men before they could slip away.

Cristhian Jose Peraltacano, 37, of Miami, and Hugo Joe Neira, 47, of Miami Gardens were arrested and charged with grand theft, a felony

Cooking oil rustling is a growing problem in Florida, thanks to the biodiesel boom, and Tuesday’s arrests in Collier County are significant.

“It’s a Florida-wide problem, and the fact that these guys got arrested is a big deal,” said Frank Scoggins, a corporate security coordinator for Kentucky-based Griffin Industries Inc., which owns the oil containers at Wendy’s and Long John Silvers and has contracts with both restaurants to remove the oil.

Scoggins added: “We are very, very grateful to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for following through with this case and doing the right thing. It’s a really huge problem.”

While the Tuesday’s thefts cost Griffin Industries more than $500, Scoggins said these types of thefts are costing the company an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 a week in Tampa and Miami and $10,000 a week in Fort Myers.

CCSO reports gave this account of the arrests:

Austin Cummings, a customer service representative for Griffin Industries, told deputies he watched Peraltacano and Neira steal spent oil from a container behind Long John Silver’s. Cummings then followed the men to Wendy’s, where he watched them use a pump truck and load the spent oil into a holding container.

Deputies responded swiftly to Wendy’s, where they saw Peraltacano at the grease tank in the back of the restaurant. He was holding a hose that was connected to a tank on the back of a green Mitsubishi truck and appeared to be vacuuming. He stopped what he was doing once he spotted deputies.

Deputies arrested Peraltacano and Neira at the scene.

The men told deputies they work for Tool Stop Food Scrap Services out of Miami. The company does not have a contract with the restaurants to remove the oil.

Scoggins said it is common for groups out of Miami to send out workers to steal used cooking oil from local businesses. He said his company’s security division has been working numerous hours trying to crack down on these types of thefts.

Cummings, he said, just happened to be at the right place at the right time and contacted deputies, who quickly realized the seriousness of the situation.

“We anticipate that as more law enforcement becomes aware of the problem, they will take appropriate action,” Scoggins said.