Crime & Courts

Wichita police: Used cooking oil is target in theft cases

Two men from Missouri have been arrested and accused of stealing used cooking oil from a fast-food restaurant in Wichita.

The manager of the Burger King at 528 N. Oliver noticed the men pumping oil from the storage tank as he arrived for work about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, Lt. Mike Hennessy said.

He did not recognize the men as employees of the company with the contract for removing the oil, so he approached and asked who they were.

The men left after a brief conversation, and the manager called police. An officer pulled the men over at Kellogg and I-135 after spotting their white Ford flatbed pickup with a large black storage tank on the back, Hennessy said.

One of the suspects is a 59-year-old man from Everton, Mo., and the other is a 45-year-old man from Springfield, Mo.

Authorities in several southeast Kansas towns — among them Iola and Cherryvale — have expressed interest in the two suspects, Hennessy said. Used cooking oil has been reported as stolen from restaurants there as well.

The used oil can be recycled and sold for use in animal feed and biodiesel, said Beau VanLoenen, assistant territory manager for Darling International, a rendering and recycling company in Wichita.

"It's pretty closely related to your corn market and your petroleum prices," VanLoenen said. "As demand for that goes up, that's what drives the value of the used cooking oil."

Legitimate grease removal companies operate during typical business hours, VanLoenen said — so any trucks emptying tanks overnight should be a red flag.

The tank on the white Ford Thursday morning was perhaps 80 percent full when the suspects were pulled over, Hennessy said.

Investigators think the suspects made more than a half-dozen stops at other restaurants before they reached the Burger King on North Oliver.

The truck had a magnetic sign on its side, but that company does not exist in Missouri and it doesn't have licenses to operate in Kansas or Wichita, Hennessy said.