Crooks target S. Fla. restaurants for used cooking oil

Owner says his used oil has been stolen several times

LAUDERDALE LAKES, Fla. - South Florida restaurants have something crooks want: Their used cooking oil.

"It's hard enough to earn business, and then you got people stealing waste vegetable oil. Who would ever think?" said Craig Goldstein, owner of Oil Recovery Interests (OIR) in Lauderdale Lakes.

OIR works all over South Florida sucking up used vegetable oil from food vendors at Sun Life Stadium, local chains like Duffy's and Bru's Room, and small mom-and-pop restaurants.

Goldstein stores the oil, and works with a chemist who adds methanol to it and turns it into biofuel. The fuel can power cars, including Goldstein's own fleet of trucks.

Biofuel is cheap and eco-conscious, which is why police say it's become a hot commodity.

Goldstein said thieves are getting to his oil before he is.

"It's almost like liquid gold -- I don't know if they call it 'brown gold' or something like that," said Bob Brudzinski, the owner of Bru's Room.

Brudzinski said his used oil has been stolen several times. Since working with OIR, he now has a receptacle for his oil with a lock on it, which makes it tougher for thieves to siphon out the oil.

Goldstein said his clients have been burglarized not only in South Florida, but also in the Tampa and Orlando areas.

"The same people are doing it over and over again," said Goldstein.

Cooking oil crimes have been making news in the last few months in New York, London, and suburban Maryland.

Goldstein said he doesn't always report the thefts to police because they happen so frequently.

Three months ago, another biodiesel company called Greenwave took matters into their own hands, according to police.

The owners reportedly went undercover and videotaped a pair of thieves. Investigators said they sucked out used oil with hoses from four restaurants in Fort Lauderdale.

Goldstein said his locking receptacles are helping thwart crooks.

"It's very frustrating that you've gotta go through this," said Goldstein.

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