Three men have been charged in Harford County in connection with an alleged scheme to steal used cooking oil before it was supposed to be taken to a Baltimore-based company to be recycled, according to police and court records.
The Harford County Sheriff's Office said the used oil allegedly was diverted from the Baltimore recycler and instead refined in a Joppa garage, before it was shipped out of state to be converted into bio-diesel.
Investigators estimate the diverted cooking oil was worth at least $1 million, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Charged on Sept. 15 by summons with theft more than $100,000 and theft scheme more than $100,000, are Richard Figueroa, of Cockeysville; Cristian Cardona, of Baltimore; and Wilson Gutierrez, of Rosedale.
The alleged victims, Maria Zia and Syed Rehmeh, owners of 212 Capital Oils in Baltimore, have been in business for about six years, and told Harford County Sheriff's deputies this spring that they noticed a drop in oil returns of about 15 percent.
As a result, they began to suspect their drivers were stealing oil, according to the Sheriff's Office. They put a GPS tracker on one of their trucks and saw it was making stops on Oak Avenue in Joppa, which was not an address for any of their accounts.
On June 23, Zia and Rehmeh notified the Sheriff's Office of the suspected theft. A day later they reported one of their vehicles appeared to be on its way to the Oak Avenue address, according to District Court charging documents.
Around 10:30 a.m. on June 24, deputies responded to Oak Avenue and found a yellow 212 Capital Oils truck backed up to an open garage in the 1100 block, according to charging documents.
The garage is owned by Figueroa, who operates Green Partners LLC, a company that collects and cleans used cooking oil, court documents state.
Deputies saw two people wearing jeans and rubber boots that covered most of their lower legs; three large silver tanks, numerous plastic containers in metal cages and two pumps were in the garage, according to court records.
The driver of the 212 Capital Oils truck, Cardona, told deputies he was there to visit a friend. One of the two men in boots, however, said Cardona was there to pick up waste, even though the meters on the truck showed the tank was full and nothing more could be loaded onto it, court documents state.
Between April 1 and June 24, GPS records showed the 212 Capital Oils truck made 44 stops at the Oak Avenue garage, according to court records.
Cardona and another driver, Wilson Gutierrez, allegedly would offload and divert the oil, collected from around Harford County and elsewhere, in exchange for money, according to a Sheriff's Office spokesperson.
Their trucks would then be refilled with waste from the refinery found inside the Joppa garage, so when the truck returned to the Baltimore recycling company, it appeared the truck was full, Sheriff's Office investigators said.
"They would fill the truck back up with waste from the refinement process and take that to the Baltimore company," Kyle Anderson, public information specialist for the Sheriff's Office, explained.
Figueroa allegedly shipped the product refined from the stolen cooking oil out of state to be converted into bio-diesel.
In court documents, Cardona allegedly admitted that he would offload the used cooking oil, 300 to 800 gallons at a time, sometimes twice a day, in exchange for cash from Figueroa. Then, according to the documents, he said he would load the truck with waste from Green Partners to make it look like his truck was full when he returned to Capital Oils.
Cardona said he had been doing it for six to eight months and was paid $300 to $400 per trip, according to the charging documents.
Bank records obtained by deputies show Figueroa paid Cardona and Gutierrez, neither of whom works for Green Partners, nearly $44,000 between March and June, according to charging documents.
None of the three men charged could be reached for comment Thursday.