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Money-laundering case sheds new light on Maryland’s grease-theft economy

February 27, 2014

image_fitzLaw enforcers have been moving in on people who make money by stealing and selling used cooking oil from behind restaurants, as City Paper reported in an in-depth story last fall. The latest wrinkle in a federally prosecuted probe conducted by Baltimore County police involves a 40-year-old Odenton man, Anthony Jean Claude, who was mentioned in last fall’s story – and it reveals that Jean Claude was in cahoots with another man whose oil-stealing exploits were also described in the article: Anthony Lamont Fitzgerald (pictured), whose Baltimore County grease-theft trial has been repeatedly postponed and is currently set for May.

On Feb. 24, Jean Claude pleaded guilty to laundering more than $1.5 million in proceeds derived from buying and selling stolen restaurant grease. Court documents reveal that Fitzgerald – identified only as “A.F.,” but the documents provide details confirming it is him – when he stole used cooking oil in 2011 and 2012, did so using Freightliner trucks that had been either straw-purchased by Jean Claude through an intermediary or had been given to Fitzgerald by Jean Claude and Ahmad Qaabid Abdul-Rahim, who also figured in last fall’s story.

Other than Jean Claude, who is due to be sentenced in June and faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence, Abdul-Rahim is the only other person to be publicly charged in federal court as a result of the grease-theft probe. Abdul-Rahim pleaded guilty last fall to interstate transportation of stolen goods and was scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21, facing a maximum 10-year sentence, but the court docket does not reflect that the hearing took place, and it has yet to be rescheduled.

Jean Claude and Abdul-Rahim, the court documents explain, have known one another since high school, and first got into the grease-theft racket in 2010. Also mentioned in the court documents, identified only as “R.F.,” is Richard Arturo Figueroa, who with Jean Claude operated Rafxcel Services, a company that made money purchasing oil from thieves and selling it to “a multitude of oil companies, at least one of which was located in Pennsylvania.” Figueroa has not been publicly charged in connection with the probe.

Court documents provide a roster of other people allegedly tied to the scheme, identified only by initials:

“J.L.”: a driver for Abdul-Rahim’s grease-collection company, Waste Not, who allegedly stole used restaurant oil and delivered it to Rafxcel’s Middle River warehouse.

“R.A.”: a Cockeysville auto detailer described as Fitzgerald’s brother, who procured two Freightliner trucks for Jean Claude and Abdul-Rahim that Fitzgerald used to steal restaurant grease.

“R.M.”: the operations manager at Rafxcel’s Middle River warehouse who, through a check-writing scheme orchestrated by Jean Claude, allegedly helped Jean Claude launder money.  

The federal crackdown on grease theft in Maryland is accompanied by similar efforts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Bernard Corbin, who faces conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen goods charges in connection with his company, Simply Green, which allegedly trafficked in stolen used restaurant oil, is scheduled for trial in April, as are Andrew and Bruce Jeremiah, brothers who in 2012 were indicted in Rhode Island for doing the same with their companies.

Grease thieves are believed to cause serious losses to the two industries that pay restaurants to collect their used oil: the rendering industry, which processes it into an ingredient for animal feed, and the bio-fuels industry. The National Renderers Association estimates that $40 million in revenues are lost annually as a result of theft.