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February 2007

Sting operation nets scrap dealer arrest

It appears that the City of Toledo and its police department are developing the legislative and law enforcement tools necessary to reduce the theft of metals such as copper, aluminum and steel and should this initiative be followed up by other jurisdictions, a national solution to this problem could be on the horizon.

The Toledo Police and the CSX Transportation Police conducted a successful sting operation last month that led to the arrest of the owner of a North Toledo scrap yard, Lagrange Metals, his son and two employees for knowingly receiving stolen material.

Lagrange Metals accepted 600 pounds of copper wire stolen from CSX Transportation.

Sergeants James Brown and Joe Heffernan, with the Operations Division, organized the operation with their CSX colleagues.

Recovered goods included shopping carts and manhole covers.

Waleed Kada, the son of the owner, purchased the copper despite having been visited by the CSX police who notified him of the theft and asked for him to contact the police should someone attempt to sell the material to him.

A search of the premises yielded further evidence of having purchased other stolen items, including manhole covers and shopping carts. A nearby Kroger grocery store, which had been subject to thefts over several years, was able to recover some of its carts.

The stolen CSX wire, later recovered, was taken from signal systems and power switches. The railroad has suffered several thefts since the price of copper has risen. In addition to affecting railway operations, the thefts compromise public safety.

Brown says that the police will conduct future sting operations and that the police have established the SCRAP program – Stop Criminals from Recycling Another Peoples’ Property. SCRAP and the Toledo Police initiatives are being financed in part by Weed and Seed, a federal Department of Justice grant program.

“We’ve already had several meetings with other scrap yard dealers – Omnisource, Metal Management and R & M Recycling,” he says. “We’ve invited everyone in the area. We’re also working on changing city ordinances to make it less likely that these places will take in stolen merchandise. We are working with scrap yards to determine what ordinances would work best because we don’t want to impede the scrap business in any way. Everyone has been very cooperative for the most part.”

“The operation that we did,” said Heffernan, “if it is going to have a much greater impact, we will need to have a long-term cooperative solution. We are also working with the Toledo Public School board, which has had a lot of theft from its construction sites, railway yards and contractors associations.”

Lately, the police have been called in to deal with thefts from school construction sites and recently, HPH Mechanical reported the theft of nearly $1,800 worth of copper tubing from a construction site. Another theft involved 200 metal political signs, valued at approximately $10,000.

Since the sting operation, the cities of Indianapolis, Buffalo and New York have contacted the Toledo Police.

“We are sharing information with them and we plan to meet with Indianapolis soon, along with some officials from Omnisource to iron out ideas,” said Brown.

While knowingly accepting stolen goods is a felony and could lead to several years in jail, the police believe that strict and effective administrative legislation can seriously reduce the amount of stolen goods be accepted by scrap dealers.

“Ultimately,” says Brown, “if you violate these laws, you are forever banned from having a scrap license in this city, which is a pretty significant penalty. We haven’t written the legislation yet, but this is what we are looking at doing. It’s not so much that you might receive a jail term for two years, but you are going to lose your livelihood.”

Should this legislation be enacted, Toledo could be the first municipality in the United States to implement it and if followed by other jurisdictions, could essentially create a serious deterrent.

With a combination of sting operations and strong legislation, Heffernan believe scrap metal thefts can be seriously curtailed.

“We’re getting a lot of feedback from our sting operation and people are much more alert to what is right and wrong,” says Heffernan. “Every jurisdiction has their own needs and rules, but what we are doing in Toledo can be applied to any municipality that is having these types of problem.”

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