Fighting Scrap Metal Theft: Stories from a Local Metal Recycler
A Missouri-based metal recycling company deals with a rash of thefts fueled by historic rises in metal values.
By Dave Fusselman, owner, Fusselman Salvage Company
In the mid-2000s, the price of commodities jumped to much higher levels than previous historical highs, and, in spite of some dips along the way, they remain in that upper range today. One notable example is copper, where the future market jumped as high as $4.50 per pound (until 2004 it had never exceeded $1.40 per pound). This year it has traded from $3 to $3.70.
By the late 2000s, the incredibly high price of copper led to a rash of thefts across the country. Individual states began passing laws requiring metal recycling companies to keep detailed records of purchases, including copies of the seller’s driver’s license or other available identification.
During the last 10 years, individuals and businesses have suffered property damage and have incurred expensive replacement costs due to thefts of copper electrical wiring and water pipe, copper gutters and downspouts, air-conditioning units and auto batteries, among other items.
Conscientious metal recycling companies go above and beyond the state-mandated requirements to help local law enforcement officials protect private property. At Fusselman Salvage Company, we are always on the lookout for suspicious items.
The most recent case at Fusselman Salvage involved several riding lawnmower batteries that were brought in one morning with part of the electrical cable still attached. The thieves had cut the cable to quickly remove the battery from the mower rather than unbolt the cable clamps. Cut cables still attached to a batch of several batteries is about as suspicious as it gets.
Our copy of the seller’s ID led us to the county in which the batteries were stolen. I was on the phone to the sheriff’s department in that county while a deputy was standing at the business owner’s store, taking a report regarding the theft. Imagine his joy at knowing who committed the crime before he had even completed taking down the information.
Most notable case to date
Our most famous case took place in 2008. A man from a town two hours east of us delivered about 2,000 pounds of small, cup-shaped brass pieces. The closest items we could compare them to were small pipe caps, but we knew that was probably not what they were used for. After a couple of trips and a casual question by one of my employees, he said he and a friend were cleaning up a railroad derailment.
That did not seem likely to us, since the brass cups were shiny and new, unscratched, and showed no signs of having been excavated out of the dirt next to a wrecked railroad car. We took the license number off the U-Haul truck he was using then got the number off a personal vehicle he used on the third or fourth trip. Our local police department told me where the personal vehicle was registered, and I called that town’s police department to initiate an investigation.
The detective found that the man and an associate worked at an ammunition plant and they were taking bucket loads of “bullet cups” out during the overnight shift. The cups were used to make ammunition that was supplied to the U.S. Army. In a short time, the U.S. Attorney for that part of the state was prosecuting the two men. Both eventually received jail time.
That case drew extensive newspaper, radio and television news coverage at the time, serving as a great opportunity to show that many scrap metal recycling companies are working to be part of the solution to metal theft rather than part of the problem.
Dave Fusselman is the owner of Fusselman Salvage Company, a metal recycling company serving north-central Missouri for its metal recycling needs. Fusselman’s customers come from many surrounding cities, such as Columbia, Jefferson City, Hannibal, Kirksville, Mexico, Fulton and many cities and small towns in region, to take advantage of the company’s honest weights and friendly service. Find them on Google+!