A Florida man dumped 10,000 gallons of something — used cooking oil .... or “sludge” from used cooking oil? — in a vacant lot, then told investigators he did it for his employers to keep his job.
That’s according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Peter Rodriguez last Tuesday on two counts of felony commercial dumping of litter in excess of 500 pounds. The 50-year-old Rodriguez, whose home is 2 1/2 miles from the befouled lot, works as a driver for Orlando-based Brownie’s Septic & Plumbing.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says hazardous waste cleanup company ACT Environmental placed it as Polk County’s largest spill.
The dumping in a vacant lot owned by Walgreens and Duke Energy drew deputies, Polk’s Fire Rescue Hazmat team and Florida Department of Environmental Protection to the intersection of U.S. Hwy 27 and Sand Mine Road last Monday. Just 75 yards away, behind a nearby Dollar General, the report said, they could see a pump truck “with the same kind of used cooking oil leaking from the drain spout.”
Investigators quickly found this was a truck owned by Brownie’s and driven by Rodriguez. The report says he at first told investigators he didn’t dump anything in the vacant lot. He picks up used cooking oil and takes it back to Brownie’s facility in Orlando because “that’s how he makes his money.”
The report says folks from Brownie’s came to the scene and confirmed that’s Rodriguez’s job. Brownie’s then refines the used cooking oil and resells it. The Brownie’s people also said, yes, what was dumped in the field looks like used cooking oil.
“The representatives stated that it does not make sense because that’s how they make their money and referred to it as ‘liquid gold,’” the arrest report says.
But, the report says Rodriguez called the sheriff’s office back and claimed what he dumped wasn’t used cooking oil. Rodriguez called what he dumped “sludge” that’s created by the refinement process. That’s the process Brownie’s said occurs after the cooking oil is brought back to Orlando and refined.
“The suspect advised me that the sludge is a waste product that is collected during the refining process of the used cooking oil that has no value and has to be disposed of,” the report says. “The suspect admitted to dumping approximately 10,000 gallons of the sludge on the victim’s properties. The suspect stated that he knew it was wrong, but had to do it to keep his job and feed his family.”
Brownie’s didn’t return a Miami Herald call about Rodriguez’s current employment status or this incident.