Cooking oil culprits often slip through the cracks

COLONIE – When a white van pulled up behind Paesan’s Pizza shop in Latham over the weekend, the driver wasn’t necessarily a repeat customer, although Paesan’s owner Frank Scavio says he’s a regular.

“Over a dozen times,” Scavio said, “We got hit twice this week alone. We got hit on Sunday and then the following Monday.”

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Scavio said for well over a year, thieves have been stealing his used cooking oil from a 300 gallon tank behind his restaurant. During the most recent heist, two men in a white van were caught red-handed on Paesan’s surveillance system, which triggered a call to police, which allowed Colonie officers to apprehend the suspects several blocks from the restaurant.

“This is a big issue,” Scavio stressed. “It’s going across state lines. I know the FBI is also involved. It’s getting bigger and bigger, and I’m just tired of being violated.”

The black market for stolen cooking oil is being driven by soaring biodiesel profits as a result of government incentives to produce and use renewable energy sources. The oil stolen from Paesan’s will be sold to a recycler and then resold to run a fleet of trucks or perhaps to heat buildings.

“If you can imagine, my tank is worth $2,000,” Scavio estimated. “So I have $2,000 sitting in my backyard and I never knew it was worth $2,000.”

Scavio says he might be able to make more money selling his used cooking oil then he can selling pizzas.

“I get 83ยข a gallon (for my cooking oil).” he said. “Jose (one of the men arrested in the most recent oil heist) gets four times what I’m getting. It kind of pisses me off that this guy is getting four times (when I get) and he doesn’t have to have a truck. He doesn’t have to pay insurance. He doesn’t have to pay employees, and he doesn’t have to pay taxes.”

By the looks of things, he doesn’t have to pay a high price criminally. Culprits typically receive appearance tickets. If they do show up for court, the fines are easily covered by the large sums of money they keep reeling in.