Twenty-one people have been indicted by a grand jury in the USA for stealing large quantities of used cooking oil (UCO) in a major grease theft ring.

According to the US Department of Justice and court records, large quantities of UCO were stolen in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennesse, and transported to New Jersey for sale and distribution, Biodiesel Magazine reported on 21 June.

The conspirators allegedly used box trucks equipped with containers designed to store and transport liquids, pumps, hoses and burglary tools to steal large quantities of UCO. A warehouse in Durham, North Carolina allegedly consolidated and stored the stolen grease, which was further transported to Virginia and beyond.

“Used cooking oil has become a sought-after commodity by biodiesel companies, and restaurants use the sale of this oil as another source of revenue,” said John Eisert, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte, North Carolina. “This team of co-conspirators had an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of gallons of cooking oil for their own profit in violation of several US laws.”

Biodiesel Magazine said the rendering industry estimated that there was an annual loss of some US$45-$75M from the theft of UCO.

Some of the 21 defendants had also been charged with immigration crimes, including failure to register with immigration officials and harbouring aliens. Six were currently considered fugitives from justice.