From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


For Thieves, Copper Is Gold in the Gutter
Soaring Prices for Salvaged Metals Spark a Wave of Property Crimes
By Candace Rondeaux and Dan Morse  /  July 25, 2007

In the District’s affluent Chevy Chase neighborhood, the thefts began
when the spring rains arrived. Copper downspouts vanished from the
side of a house, causing its basement to flood. Later, someone was
spotted pulling the gutters off another residence.

In all, thieves hit about 15 homes, police say, making off with a
commodity that is more popular than ever on the black market: used

Soaring prices for salvaged metals, driven by a global demand in Asian
markets, have turned scrap into the new gold for the sticky-fingered
set, leading to spikes in an array of property crimes in the
Washington area and elsewhere. Manhole covers, beer kegs, light poles,
air-conditioning units and even catalytic converters — valued for the
small amount of platinum they contain — have been targeted to feed a
$65 billion domestic scrap-recycling industry.

On several occasions this month, thieves dug up hundreds of feet of
underground copper cable used to illuminate ball fields in Anne
Arundel County, forcing the organizers of a youth baseball tournament
to reschedule a half-dozen games. “We got hit three times in eight
days,” said Ray Fox, president of the Linthicum Ferndale Youth
Athletic Association.

In Northern Virginia this year, crime reports are peppered with metal
thefts. Among them: bronze cemetery flower vases and stainless-steel
construction edging stolen in Fairfax County, copper gutters and
tubing taken in Loudoun and aluminum siding removed from a yard in
Prince William.

Thieves in recent weeks have crawled under cars to cut out their
catalytic converters, a component of a vehicle emissions system, in a
parking lot in the Annapolis area and a junkyard in Howard County.

With the price of aluminum near a 20-year high last summer, someone
carted away the bleacher seats at the District’s Fort Greble Field,
home to Ballou Senior High School’s baseball team.

In some cases, thieves have put themselves in great danger by stealing
live electrical wires from buildings. A 41-year-old man was
electrocuted this month in a vacant building in Pasadena, and a 47-
year-old man was killed while stripping wire from a D.C. school last
year. In the past year, about two dozen people have been killed across
the country while trying to steal metals, according to news accounts.

Pepco spokesman Robert Dobkin said thieves in search of copper broke
into the utility’s substations eight times in the past year. “It’s a
commodity and they want to cash in on it, but our concern is injury,”
Dobkin said. “It’s one thing to steal copper wire from a yard, and
it’s another thing to break into a substation with live electricity.”

Metal scrap is often more easily unloaded than other stolen goods.
Some dealers pay in cash, and scrap is typically processed in ways
that obliterate any indication of its provenance. With the price of
metal so high, an unscrupulous dealer might not be motivated to
investigate where and how a seller’s scrap was salvaged.

Legislators in many states have acted recently to more closely
regulate the industry or are now considering doing so. In an effort to
tighten controls on stolen material, the Virginia legislature approved
a measure this year requiring metal buyers to record an identification
number for unauthorized sellers, such as a Social Security or driver’s
license number, and make such records available to police upon

Because booming economies in such nations as China and India require
massive quantities of metal, the market principles of supply and
demand have made metal theft far more profitable than it once was.
Copper traded for $3.35 a pound in June, a more than fourfold increase
over its price in 2003. Platinum traded this month at about $1,300 a
troy ounce, more than twice its value five years ago — fueling the
criminal appetite for catalytic converters.

Chuck Carr, a spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling
Industries, a trade association, said industry watchers have seen a
rise in relatively large-scale, brazen thefts, such as the stealing of
scrap-laden trucks. “We’ve seen situations where loaded shipping
containers have been stolen,” he said.

Carr said his organization has encouraged dealers to join a nationwide
alert system that tracks unusual thefts and warns dealers to be on the
lookout for stolen scrap.

In Chevy Chase, which has among the lowest crime rates in the
District, the downspout thefts created a localized uproar. “When
there’s thefts like this, people get nervous, and their sense of calm,
their sense of safety, gets broken,” said Andy Solberg, the police
commander whose district includes the neighborhood.

The crime wave lasted about a month, until police arrested two men in
a stolen car on their way to a scrap yard in Prince George’s County.
The trunk and back seat were loaded with crushed copper downspouts,
Solberg said.

The men could face stiff penalties for driving a stolen car — a
felony — but the copper heists are misdemeanors and probably won’t
bring much jail time, Solberg said. “You can steal a lot of copper
downspouts in Chevy Chase, or you can steal three bars of soap from
CVS, and in the eyes of the law there’s no difference,” he said.

Metal bandits watch prices closely, of course, including those for
stainless steel. In April, Ernest Vinson of Landover was charged in
Charles County with the theft of as many as 35 empty beer kegs
snatched from behind two Waldorf restaurants, an Applebee’s and an
Outback Steakhouse.

In a sworn statement, Sheriff’s Detective J. McKenzie wrote that
Vinson admitted that he stole at least some of the kegs. At the
Applebee’s, he and an accomplice are suspected of cutting the lock of
a dumpster-area enclosure and loading the kegs into a sport-utility
vehicle. McKenzie wrote that Vinson told her he had sold the kegs to a
scrap buyer for about $27 apiece.

Some beer distributors have sought to protect themselves by increasing
the deposits keg beer buyers plunk down for the kegs, which is
traditionally as little as $10. The thinking is that people will keep
them tightly secured.

“We’re not trying to penalize anyone,” said Keith Chmiel, vice
president of sales at an Anheuser-Busch distributor in the Washington
area. “We just want to get our kegs back.”

He might be in luck. The price of stainless-steel scrap dipped
recently to about 36 cents a pound, according to the average price
given by four area recyclers. That translates to only about $11 a keg.

{Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.}


Light poles vanishing — believed sold for scrap by thieves
130 street fixtures in Baltimore have been cut down
Gary Gately  /  November 25, 2005

(11-25) 04:00 PDT Baltimore — Given that they stand some 30 feet
tall, their disappearance is attracting a good deal of attention here
— even as their final destination remains a mystery.

Thieves are sawing down aluminum light poles. Some 130 have vanished
from Baltimore’s streets in the last several weeks, authorities say,
presumably sold for scrap metal. But so far the case of the pilfered
poles has stumped the police and left many local residents wondering
just how someone manages to make off with what would seem to be a
conspicuous street fixture.

The poles, which weigh about 250 pounds apiece, have been snatched
during the day and in the middle of the night, from two-lane blacktop
roads and from parkways with three lanes on either side of grass
median strips, in poor areas and in some of the city’s most affluent
neighborhoods. Left behind are half-foot stubs of metal, with wires
that carry 120 volts neatly tied and wrapped in black electric tape.

“It’s a newfound phenomenon; I have to say we haven’t seen this
before,” a spokesman for the city’s transportation department, David
Brown, said. “Apparently, the culprits know what they’re doing because
we’re talking about 30-foot poles here. It’s not like you can stick
one in a grocery cart and get rolling.”

The culprits seem to have pole-snatching down to a model of precision
and efficiency, city officials say. They appear to have gone so far as
dressing up as utility crews, police say, and placing orange traffic
cones around the poles about to be felled, to avoid arousing suspicion
among motorists.

The missing poles have become yet another measure of the desperation
in one of the country’s most violent cities. Last year, Baltimore,
with a population about one-twelfth that of New York City’s, had a
homicide rate more than five times as high.

An illegal drug trade fuels much of the violence. Health officials say
40,000 addicts live among Baltimore’s estimated 650,000 residents. For
at least a decade, addicts who cash in scrap metal to pay for their
next fix have been ripping metal pipes, radiators and wires out of
vacant houses, and prying cast-iron security grates and downspouts
from buildings.

But the audacity of the latest thefts has startled even law
enforcement officials. “It definitely is brazen,” said Officer Nicole
Monroe, a city police spokeswoman. “It surprises me that people would
be so brazen as to do something like this.” The police have no
suspects, Monroe said.

Some observers here — in calls to talk radio programs, letters to
newspapers, chats over a beer or coffee — wonder how the thieves have
eluded police for this long.

“If the cops can’t catch guys who’re cutting down 30-foot poles, how
are they going to crack a major drug gang?” said Chip Franklin, a talk-
show host on WBAL Radio, a local news and talk station. “What’s next?
Someone taking a downtown building?”

But Lynn Smith, manager at Modern Junk and Salvage Co. in Baltimore,
said the thieves’ quest for quick cash did not surprise her. “They
find any way they can to get the metal and then the money in
Baltimore,” Smith said. “They don’t care how they get it.”

She added that she and other local dealers in scrap metal were “on
alert” for sections of aluminum light poles and would not buy them.
However, Smith suggested, thieves may be cutting the poles into
pieces, then heading out of town to sell the scrap aluminum, which
goes for about 35 cents a pound. It will cost about $156,000 to
replace each pole, the metal arms that extend over roads and the glass
globes, city officials said.

Beyond the financial loss, Monroe said, the thefts could increase the
danger of other crimes. “From a public safety standpoint, what these
thieves are doing is just horrible,” she said. “People want well-lit
areas when they’re walking and when they’re driving in the city.” Pole
theft “is a crime,” she said, “and we will actively pursue anybody”
caught doing it or suspected of it. For now, though, parts of
Baltimore have grown a bit darker at nightfall.


Moore sculpture ‘could be melted’
Police hunting for thieves who stole a Henry Moore sculpture worth £3m
fear it could be melted down and sold as scrap.

The bronze Reclining Figure was stolen by thieves from the grounds of
the Perry Green estate in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, on Thursday
evening. CCTV cameras filmed the three raiders as they used a crane to
lift the two-tonne piece on to a lorry. The officer leading the hunt
said the sculpture would only have a scrap metal value of about

The Henry Moore Foundation, which owns the sculpture and has offered a
“substantial” reward for its return, has begun a review of its
security. Chief Inspector Richard Harbon said police classed the
sculpture as a “national treasure” and detectives from Hertfordshire
were working with the Metropolitan Police’s Fine Arts Squad. He added:
“It is a nationally-renowned sculpture and very, very difficult to get
rid of. So, obviously, we are looking at all the possibilities, right
from scrap metal right up to fine arts theft. This is not opportunist
theft. These are people who knew what they were doing, knew what they
were after. A very, very audacious theft.”

‘Daring’ raid

A police spokesman said one of the two vehicles used in the raid was a
Mercedes flat-bed lorry, possibly red, with a “hi-ab” lifting crane on
the back. The other was a Daihatsu four-wheel drive with spotlights at
the front. One of the three suspects wore a hooded jacket and one a
baseball cap. Foundation spokesman Gareth Spence said: “It is quite a
daring thing to do, and it will cause a reassessment of our security
process. “Obviously, we are very upset and disappointed.”

Artists’s reputation

“The theft alone has caused a great deal of upset, but the thought of
it being melted down is ever more so. It is very difficult to express
the emotions of the foundation at the moment at the prospect of that.”

Considered by many to be the most outstanding British sculptor of the
century, Moore died at 88 in August 1986. A few years before his
death, Moore gave the whole estate of Perry Green to the trustees of
the Henry Moore Foundation. Its aims were to conserve the work and
reputation of the artist and the setting in which the work was
created, and to generally assist the arts and, in particular,
sculpture within the cultural life of the country.


Copper theft saps largest food bank in Indiana
Freezer goes offline, perishables spoil, and some of the hundreds of
thousands who rely on Gleaners may feel the pinch
BY Diana Penner  /  July 31, 2007

Thieves stole copper pipe from the state’s largest food bank over the
weekend, knocking out the freezer and cool rooms and potentially
costing the agency a half-million dollars in perishable food and
repair costs.

The precise loss to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana wasn’t known late
Monday because workers were frantically trying to make repairs to
minimize the loss of frozen foods, destined for hundreds of thousands
of Central Indiana’s neediest residents.

By the time the thefts were discovered, 2,544 pounds of cheese already
had risen above safe temperatures and had to be destroyed. Senior
citizens in Vermillion County scheduled to receive 40-pound boxes of
food today will get their food, but without the 2 pounds of cheese
they should have received.

Police say surveillance cameras caught the two male thieves on tape,
which police are reviewing — and they are asking anyone with
information to come forward.

This marks the third time in two months that Gleaners has been hit by
metal thieves, despite having the lights, alarm system and security
cameras police recommend.

Pam Altmeyer, president and chief executive officer of Gleaners, said
she was stymied.

“I’m at a loss, unless I station someone out there with a shotgun,”
she said. “It is becoming very clear that the thieves do not
understand that it is those most in need of assistance who are hurt.

“Who’s hurt is children and the elderly and families.”

Police say they also are outraged by the apparent callousness of the

“It’s on a personal level now,” said Lt. Jeff Duhamell, spokesman for
the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The theft began about 8:30 p.m. Friday when the two males, who arrived
on bicycles, cut through a chain-link fence and began to rip copper
tubing out, presumably to sell to scrap metal dealers to cash in on
rising metal prices. They came back after dark to finish the job.

For years, police here and elsewhere have been contending with thefts
of manhole covers, aluminum siding, prized cars being worked on in
driveways and even commemorative plaques as thieves snatch copper,
aluminum, iron and other metals to convert quickly into cash.

Gleaners has an alarm system that went off inside the building, but it
malfunctioned and did not ring in to the alarm company, Altmeyer said.
The cause of the malfunction was being investigated Monday, and
Gleaners planned to upgrade its system.

Gleaners serves more than 300,000 Hoosiers through more than 400
pantries and charities in 20 Central Indiana counties.

The theft was discovered by an employee about 6:30 a.m. Monday,
Altmeyer said. Gleaners was hit by metal thieves twice in June,
forcing the closure of a produce room. After this weekend’s theft, a
30,000-cubic-foot “cooler room” and two 40,000-cubic-foot freezers
lost all refrigeration.

Among the items lost: 3,482 cases of dairy products, 1,860 cases of
half-pints of milk and 48,743 cases of produce. In all, 54,892 cases
of frozen foods were in jeopardy, including 233 cases of deer meat and
63 turkeys.

Altmeyer said the cost of the theft could reach $464,000 in food, plus
at least $20,000 for immediate repairs being made Monday to get just
one of the freezer rooms back on line.

Still, she said, Hoosiers would not go hungry. Nonperishable food
remained available. Milk would be purchased for children’s summer
programs, and staff planned to redouble efforts this week to get
donations to make up the loss, she said.

Thefts of copper and other metals have plagued businesses and
residential buildings in Indianapolis — and elsewhere in the country
— and Duhamell said police recommend good lighting, alarm systems,
security cameras and diligence by neighbors.

Duhamell said copper can be sold for a little less than $3 per pound
these days, so it is unlikely the thieves got more than a few hundred
dollars for the tubing.