Contra Costa County cracks down on metal theft

June 20, 2012 10:47:33 PM PDT
Law enforcement officials from across Contra Costa County served search warrants on seven recycling centers Tuesday in an organized sting to crack down on the theft of copper and other metals.

The workers at one recycling center said that the owner wasn't available to speak with ABC7 News, but VV Recycling, along with six other recycling centers were the targets of an undercover sting operation that the Contra Costa County district attorney says lasted six months.

"The amount of property that's being stolen is in the millions of dollars," Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark A. Peterson said.

The district attorney's office accuses the recycling centers of buying scrap metal that could have been stolen from local utilities, paying cash for the goods and ignoring state law requiring all transactions be recorded.

"The tax payer is the victim of all this crime and it's an astronomical cost," Peterson said.

Also named were three facilities in Richmond: Ren Recycling on Parr Boulevard, Action Recycling on Pittsburgh Avenue and Sims Recycling on south 4th Street. There were two in Pittsburg: Christensen Recycling on Loveridge Road and Pittsburgh Recycling on Clark Avenue. There was one in Concord: the Concord/Pleasant Hill Recycling Center on Galaxy Way.

According to law enforcement, all of the named recycling centers engaged in repeated offenses before the warrants were served -- some as many as five or six times.

"We've seen people come in with six-inch copper pipe, which nobody would have six-inch copper pipe unless you East Bay MUD," Jay Anast said.

Anast has operated his recycling center for two decades and prides himself on running a clean operation. He keeps his formula for accepting copper and other metals simple.

"We try and limit what we by to what somebody should have in their normal house: copper wire, we get a lot of extension cords," Anast said.

But he says thieves continue to try and move their stolen goods.

"Metal prices have gone through the roof and it's made our job miserable," he said.

Utility companies are a favorite target of those looking to steal copper and other metals.

"Since 2005-2011 we've experienced the loss of more than $5.2 million and that's a result of about 2,200 thefts," PG&E spokesperson Brandi Ehlers said.

But PG&E is not alone and thieves can be brazen -- Union Pacific police arrested three men after stumbling across the suspects loading a truck with copper. ABC7 News was there when police spotted the suspects next to the tracks in northbound Richmond. Officers stopped the train and then jumped off with guns drawn. They found about 30-40 pounds of wire in the back of the truck.

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