New state law attempts to curb metal theft

If you're going to haul away scrap metal from your yard, be prepared to get a state certificate Jan. 1 or you will be breaking the law.

Senate Bill 570 requires everyone transporting metal to get the certificate or risk a fine of up to $1,250 or a maximum 30 days in jail.

"What I'm encouraging people to do is to have the certificate — you can print it off the Internet, said OSP Sgt. Stephanie Ingraham. "Save yourself some trouble — just have it."

The certificate will require identifying where the metal was obtained, which doesn't sit well with people who routinely go to scrap yards.

"It seems like a big hassle," said Cory Corbett, a 23-year-old White City resident who works for a refrigeration company.

He brought a load of old refrigeration equipment, motors and condensers that he figured would fetch about $200 or $300 to Schnitzer Steel in White City.

Corbett said it would be difficult to figure out where everything came from, saying the motors were salvaged from 60 different stores.

Bobby Maley, a 31-year-old White City resident, said, "It's going to me a mess."

Maley goes around neighborhoods, knocking on doors, looking for scrap wherever he can find it. Maley said he will have to keep a log of where he gets the metal before he fills out the certificate.

If a person is stopped by law enforcement and doesn't havethe certificate, it would benecessary to prove ownership of the metal as a defense against any possible penalties.

The new law is designed to help law enforcement better track shipments of metal to crack down on the growing problem of metal theft.

Scrap metal yards will be required to inspect the metal transportation certificate and report any suspicious behavior.

Any attempts to alter metal so that its original ownership cannot be detected also is against the law.

Michael Melton, general manager of White City Metals and Supply, said the new law is an expansion of another law that took effect last Jan. 1 and requires his company to take a picture of the scrap sellers, their vehicles and the materials they bring in. In addition, a copy is made of the driver's license.

Many people burn off the insulation surrounding copper wire, but Melton no longer can accept it even though it is worth more money by the pound as bare wire.

Previously, he paid cash for many small transactions, but the state will be requiring a check. The check, however, will have to be held for three days before the seller can receive it.

Some sellers would bring in as little as 63 cents worth of metal, but Melton said he will have to institute a $15 minimum because of the extra paperwork for the checks.

He said the new procedures will be a hassle mostly for the sellers, but not for his company, which already has instituted about 90 percent of the new regulations.

"The big thing is getting people trained because it has been a free-for-all for so long," he said.

Melton said he has seen his fair share of suspicious activity over the years.

A woman was bringing in enough telephone cable each night to pocket $300 to $400. This went on for about four months in 2008 and 2009 before someone saw the woman with a telephone company logo on her shirt. An investigation ensued and the woman was arrested, he said.

One of Melton's employees was arrested in 2007 for stealing wire and hiding it in a lunch pail, then selling it later at Schnitzer Steel.

High prices for metal encourage thievery. Bare copper has been selling for $2.54 a pound and aluminum brings about 40 cents or more a pound, depending on quality.

Even with the new law, Melton said criminals will find a way to make money illegally.

"People are relentless in their pursuit of finding something to steal," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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