21 indicted for stealing used cooking oil from restaurants, using profits to run Durham nightclub

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A total of 21 people are facing charges in a scheme that involved stealing used cooking oil from restaurants, including some in the Triangle, for their own profit.

Used cooking oil has become a valuable recycled commodity during the past decade because it can be used for biofuel.

According to the Department of Justice, some of the alleged conspirators used the profits to purchase and operate a Durham nightclub.

The following were charged with conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen goods and money laundering: Salvador Ibarra Escalante, Ruth Nava-Abarca, Florentino Valencia-Tepoz, Gregorio Vazquez-Castillo, Juan De La Cruz-Gonzalez, Samuel Cruz, Miguel Gutierrez, Jaime Labra-Tovar, Oscar Ugalde-Escalante, Hasan Ozvatan, Emilio Gomez-Gonzalez, Juan Maldonado-Hernandez, George Luis Morales, Toribio Escalante-Campos, Eric Evo, Ryan Mercado-Rodriguez, Juan Lopez-Posada, Rene Espinoza-Torres, Kelvin Fe Arellano-Valencia, Demetrio Valencia-Flores and Alvaro Mendez-Flores.

The indictment states that the members of the conspiracy repeatedly traveled to restaurants in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee, in box trucks equipped with containers designed to store and transport liquids, pumps, hoses, and burglary tools, for the purpose of stealing large quantities of used cooking oil.

Search warrants show that in August 2017, some of the conspirators drove one of the box trucks along NC Highway 55 through Durham, Cary and Apex, hitting 13 restaurants and stealing a total of 9,842 pounds of cooking oil.

They would then take the stolen cooking oil to a warehouse in Durham for storage. Later, a trailer was used to transport it to Virginia and New Jersey.

According to search warrants, the profits were used to purchase and operate La Maraka Night Club on North Roxboro Road in Durham.
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