BETHEL — Police say they were on patrol early Thursday morning when they spotted a van in the parking lot of a local diner.
When officers inspected the vehicle, they found two young men from New York who police say were in the process of stealing used cooking oil from a vat.
The two men, ages 19 and 24, were taken into custody on charges of fourth-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit fourth-degree larceny. The 19-year-old front passenger was also charged with carrying a dangerous weapon after police said he was found with a knife with a blade longer than 4 inches.
The two are being held on $10,000 and $20,000 bonds.
The owner of the Stony Hill Diner, where the alleged theft occurred, could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
Used cooking grease is not uncommon for crooks to slip away with, police said.
Lt. Robert Durkin, a spokesperson for the Bethel Police Department, said businesses contract companies to recycle the used oil, but in some cases, they arrive to find the oil missing.
Thieves can then resell the stolen grease, which is recycled as biofuel or used in pet food and animal feed or used to make commercial products.
Thefts of the slippery stuff can also be highly organized. In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced the indictment of 21 people connected with the trade of used cooking oil in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee, which was transported to New Jersey for sale.
“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,” John Eisert, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a statement at the time. “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 U.S. laws.”
Last year, Connecticut lawmakers reintroduced a bill that would have stiffened penalties for people caught stealing used cooking oil, making it a crime on par with stealing property valued at $1,000.
Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed that proposal the year before, and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill when it came to a public hearing. The organization said the proposal did not set a minimum value of stolen oil that would trigger the harsher penalty and was an “unnecessary over-criminalization that would contributed to mass incarceration.”