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The High-Powered Hunt For Slippery Thieves Who Steal Restaurants’ Used Cooking Oil

The Simpsons/via Baltimore City Paper

By Van Smith
Baltimore City Paper

BALTIMORE — On normal shifts working the mean streets of Baltimore’s northwest police district, officer Maunda Williams catches people engaged in typical Mobtown crimes, like shooting people. But just after midnight on Oct. 18, 2012, Williams’ shift started with something oddly amiss, right before his crime-keen eyes. It was going down right next door to the police station, at the Roost, the beautifully retro drive-in eatery that is far-famed for its deep-fried fare, especially its delectable lake trout.

Long lines of fried-food connoisseurs regularly form at the Roost, so its fryers work overtime, needing fresh oil on a regular basis—and producing huge volumes of used oil that restaurants like the Roost sell to companies that recycle it into animal feed or biofuels. That night, Williams had reason to suspect the Roost’s prodigious quantities of old fryer fat were about to go somewhere they shouldn’t, which would rob revenue from both the Roost and its used-oil recycler.

Williams, after returning to his personal vehicle to retrieve some items he needed for his shift, “observed a white Freightliner truck with a green tank on the back” as it entered the Roost’s property, he wrote in court records. Williams “began to observe the actions of the truck driver in the rear of the restaurant” as the man “extended a long blue hose” from “a vacuum pumper type of tank on the rear of his truck” to two 300-gallon tanks “that are kept in the rear of the location to store the used cooking oil of the Roost.”

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