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Police target stolen-scrap buyers in hopes of cracking down on copper thefts

by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on May 2, 2011 at 9:53 PM

Updated Monday, May 2 at 10:40 PM

(KMOV)-- Police say copper theft is an epidemic, and it is affecting many of us.

In just the last few months we've tracked copper thefts from West St. Louis County to the Metro East.  Maryland Heights and East St. Louis created special task forces just to deal with the crime.

But here's a question:  What if the thieves had nowhere to sell their stolen scrap?

Police and prosecutors are wising up to hammer down the root of the problem -- the scrap dealers.  Undercover police just busted a buyer in South St. Louis for paying cash for what they say was clearly stolen.  A warrant is out for the arrest of 73-year-old William Beckton for receiving stolen property at Arch Metals.

"Copper is the big one.  That's what my gutters were," St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce says.

Yep, even she has been targeted by metal thieves.  But the tables are turning -- on the dealers.  St. Louis police have been working an undercover sting -- taking items that are clearing marked with company or city monikers and trying to sell it as scrap.

"I would be careful," Joyce says.  "If you're buying property and you have reason to believe that it's stolen, that could be a police officer you're doing business with."

Because until now there has been virtually no consequences for buying stolen scrap.  Catalytic converters, a/c coils, wires and copper pipes often top the list. 

No one sees the problem more clearly than John McIntosh.  A copper thief was caught red-handed over the weekend stealing parts from his roof-top air conditioners.  It'll cost John about $15,000 in repairs for the thief to make only about $100.

"I think that they need to be a little more diligent -- the people who are buying it -- to see where this stuff is coming from instead of just handing out dollars to whomever walks off the street with this merchandise," McIntosh says.

And that's just the message police and prosecutors are pushing tonight.

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