21 indicted in NC for $4M used cooking oil theft ring


DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A total of 21 people, including 5 North Carolina residents, have been indicted on federal charges in a multi-state crime ring that investigators say aimed to steal used cooking oil and sell it for profit.

U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. announced Thursday the indictments of the 21 people on conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen good and money laundering charges.

The group would use box trucks to steal used cooking oil from restaurants in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia before transporting it to a warehouse in Durham, federal officials said.

From there, the oil would be moved to New Jersey to be sold.

“Used cooking oil has become a sought-after commodity by biodiesel companies, and restaurants use the sale of this oil as another source of revenue,” said John Eisert, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte. “This team of co-conspirators had an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of gallons of cooking oil for their own profit in violation of several U.S. laws.”

If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison along with a $500,000 fine.

Those indicted are:

  • Salvador Ibarra Escalante, age 43, of Mexico, also known as “Billy Escalante”  
  • Ruth Nava-Abarca, age 29, of  Mexico
  • Florentino Valencia-Tepoz, age 47 of Mexico
  •  Gregorio Vazquez-Castillo, age 43, of Mexico, also known as “Jaime Castillo”
  • Juan De La Cruz-Gonzalez, age 32, of Mexico 
  • Samuel Cruz, age 42, of Durham, North Carolina 
  • Miguel Gutierrez, age 24, of Henderson, North Carolina
  • Jaime Labra-Tovar, age 23, of Henderson, North Carolina 
  • Oscar Ugalde-Escalante, age 31, of Mexico 
  • Hasan Ozvatan, age 40, of Turkey 
  • Emilio Gomez-Gonzalez, age 36, of Mexico 
  • Juan Maldonado-Hernandez, age 28, of Mexico 
  • George Luis Morales, age 21, of New York, New York 
  • Toribio Escalante-Campos, age 59, of Mexico 
  • Eric Evo, age 24, of Richmond, Virginia 
  • Ryan Mercado-Rodriguez, age 24, of Henderson, North Carolina
  • Juan Lopez-Posada, age 40, of El Salvador 
  • Rene Espinoza-Torres, age 45, of Mexico
  • Kelvin Fe Arellano-Valencia, age 19, of Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Demetrio Valencia-Flores, age 42, of Mexico
  •  Alvaro Mendez-Flores, age 38, of Mexico

Gomez-Gonzalez was also charged with failure to register with immigration officials.

Nava-Abarca, Valencia-Tepoz, Escalante-Campos, Ibarra-Escalante, and Vazquez-Castillo were charged with alien harboring.

Ibarra-Escalante, Valencia-Tepoz, Nava-Abarca, and Vazquez-Castillo were also charged with immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud.

Juan De La Cruz-Gonzalez, Rene Espinoza-Torres, Emilio Gomez-Gonzalez, Juan Maldonado-Hernandez, Ruth Nava-Abarca, and Hasan Ozvatan are fugitives from justice.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of these individuals please contact the Homeland Security Investigations Tip-Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or 1-866347-2423. Any information that you provide will remain confidential.

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