Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Joplin men indicted in $5.6 million cooking oil conspiracy
Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that two brothers in Joplin, Mo., and Mountain Grove, Mo., and two employees have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a conspiracy to sell more than $5.6 million worth of spent cooking oil – stolen from restaurants across five states – to a recycling facility in Oklahoma.
Jeffery Lynn Fleming, 58, of Joplin, his brother, Brian Dale Fleming, 48, of Mountain Grove, and Virgil Orin Bird, Jr., 51, and Neal Sawyer Robbins, 28, both of Joplin, were charged in a 12-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Jan. 20, 2015. That indictment was unsealed and made public today upon Jeffery and Brian Fleming’s arrests and initial court appearances.
According to the indictment, Jeffery and Brian Fleming sold approximately $5,658,636 worth of spent cooking oil that had been stolen from restaurants to a grease recycling business in Tulsa, Okla., between Nov. 1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2011.
Spent cooking oil was the by-product of cooking oil that restaurants used for frying food. Restaurants had on-site collection tanks in which their spent cooking oil was stored. Many restaurants established contracts with various companies for the collection and removal of spent cooking oil.
Jeffery Fleming operated Fleming Recycling, LLC, in Carterville, Mo. Fleming Recycling allegedly bought stolen spent cooking oil from drivers who stole it from numerous restaurants in Missouri, Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. Fleming Recycling then allegedly sold the stolen spent cooking oil to a grease recycling business in Tulsa. Bird and Robbins worked for Jeffery Fleming at Fleming Recycling.
Brian Fleming operated Tri-State Grease in Cabool, Mo. Tri-State Grease allegedly bought stolen spent cooking oil from drivers who stole it both inside and outside the state of Missouri. Tri-State Grease then allegedly sold the stolen spent cooking oil to Fleming Recycling.
All four defendants are charged with participating in a conspiracy to commit the crime of interstate transportation of stolen property.
According to the indictment, a grease recycling business in Tulsa sent a tanker truck to Fleming Recycling on an almost-daily basis. Each tanker truck held approximately 45,000 pounds of stolen spent cooking oil that was valued at approximately $20,000.
The indictment alleges a number of specific instances in which stolen spent cooking oil was sold to the Tulsa business. For example, on Jan. 31, 2011, three tanker truck loads of stolen spent cooking oil allegedly were transported to Tulsa. The Tulsa recycling business then allegedly sent three wire transfers totaling $44,873 to Jeffery Fleming as payment.
The federal indictment cites several instances in which undercover law enforcement officers sold truck-loads of purportedly stolen spent cooking oil to Fleming Recycling and received payment. For example, on July 11, 2011, Brian Fleming allegedly assisted undercover officers in the purported theft of approximately 32,000 pounds of spent cooking oil with a purported value of approximately $9,000 from an undercover tanker truck. The next day, the indictment says, Brian Fleming paid an undercover officer $4,650 for the purported stolen spent cooking oil.
During the conspiracy, the indictment says, Jeffery Fleming (through Fleming Recycling) paid Brian Fleming, Bird, Robbins and other co-conspirators approximately $2,600,709 for stolen spent cooking oil.
In addition to the conspiracy, Jeffery Fleming is charged with one count of interstate transportation of stolen goods, two counts of conducting financial transactions with criminally-derived proceeds, one count of making false statements on tax returns, one count of structuring a financial transaction in order to evade federal reporting requirements and one count of causing a financial institution to fail to file a transaction report. Jeffery Fleming and the other defendants are also charged in five separate money-laundering counts for conducting financial transactions to promote an unlawful activity.
The federal indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government $595,429 seized by law enforcement officers and a money judgment of $5,658,636, representing the proceeds of the alleged offenses.
Dickinson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Abram McGull and Patrick Carney. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.