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December 15, 2011

Essex police charge man in cooking oil theft

ESSEX — It's not clear whether he is connected to a string of similar thefts last week.

But Essex police, investigating the heist of used cooking oil from local restaurants, say they caught an Ipswich man greasy-handed early Wednesday morning outside the Fortune Palace restaurant on Main Street.

According to Police Chief Peter Silva, officers arrested Robert C. Kauhler of Riverside Drive in Ipswich at 4:46 a.m. while he was allegedly helping himself to the business's used cooking oil.

Kauhler was arrested on a charge of larceny, but Silva said he has not been linked to the previous thefts of used cooking oil that hit Essex and Ipswich last week.

Police say a tip from a witness about a suspicious vehicle outside of Fortune Palace led Officers Thomas Shamshak and Justin Zwicker to investigate the area. The officers then allegedly saw Kauhler moving the used cooking oil into his car from the restaurant's storage container.

Fortune Palace was one of three Essex restaurants that had used cooking oil stolen from it twice before, once in May and once just last week. The other restaurants, Windward Grille and Lewis's Restaurant, do not seem to have been targeted in the latest incident.

The used cooking oil can be used as diesel fuel in cars, trucks and heating systems. With the recent turn toward green energy, more vehicles are capable of using biofuels such as used cooking oil in addition to gasoline.

Many cars can be converted to using biofuel, while cars and trucks with diesel engines require no changes to allow them to use biofuel.

According to Phillip Bruno, manager of American By-Products and the person who reported the earlier thefts to police, cooking oil thefts increase when the price of oil goes up.

"It's a commodity, so it's worth money," Bruno said previously.

Though the price of oil has declined from the record high of $145 per barrel in July 2008, it is still $96 per barrel, or an average $3.32 a gallon in Massachusetts.

Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or sbergman@glouce3stertimes.com.

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