November 21, 2011
Guarding against stolen metals
It’s tough to tell when a metal like copper has been stolen
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Scrap dealer Tom Earley, owner of Central Recycling at 178 Central Ave., stands in his office next to his price list for various metals. Police say three men sold 950 pounds of stolen copper to Earley Tuesday.
Copper can be easily sold in scrapyards and at a good price, making it a prime target for thieves.
Scrap dealer Tom Earley takes in copper and other materials for cash at his business, Central Recycling on Central Avenue in Cortland.
When Todd Brady brought 900 pounds of copper and brass fittings to Central Recycling and Earley paid him $2,300 cash on Wednesday, Earley took it as just another sale. But the copper and brass were stolen, according to police.
“He said he was saving it (the copper) and was waiting for the price to go up,” Earley recalled. “I had a funny notion at the time, but we’re just trying to make money, and it’s not uncommon.”
When police take reports of stolen metal, local scrapyards and recycling centers are the first places investigators look for leads, Cortland Police Lt. Richard Troyer said. City police reached out to Earley’s business, as well as Contento’s scrapyard on Pendleton Street, last week.
It was Earley’s records of the sale to Brady that led to three arrests.
Brady, 22, his brother Thomas Brady, 18, and John DiPietro, 31, were arraigned Friday in City Court on felony charges for allegedly stealing $70,000 worth of copper and tools from construction trailers on the Cortland Junior-Senior High School grounds.
But Earley says it is not uncommon for customers to bring copper in large quantities to trade for cash. Frequently, plumbers, or other customers save loads of spare copper to sell for scrap, he noted.
“That’s why it didn’t really occur to me,” said Earley, who has worked in scrap recycling for 21 years. “It’s hard to assume it’s stolen all the time.”
Todd Brady remains in Cortland County Jail on $5,000 bail. Thomas Brady and Dipietro were granted a supervised release from jail Friday.
Copper theft has turned into a national problem in recent years, as prices rise and fall.
Cortland is no stranger to the crime.
“Copper is enticing because it sells for about $3 a pound and it’s not hard to get, say, 10 pounds of copper,” said Jerry Contento, owner of the scrapyard on Pendleton Street.
There are different kinds, too. Bare bright copper wire is considered to be the highest quality in copper, making it eagerly sought by scrap dealers — and thieves, Contento said.
Local police frequently make arrests for stolen metal, especially copper. Police say thieves can find it just about anywhere — including vacant or rarely used properties.
Two local men were arrested in August for stealing copper wiring and piping from inside walls at Wildwood Christian Camp on Wildman Road in Solon. Some of the stolen copper was sold at Contento’s scrapyard, police said.
One of the accused, 26-year-old Kyle Karpensky of Cortland, is expected to plead guilty to charges Tuesday in County Court. The case against his alleged accomplice, Kyle Heller, 25, is pending also.
Troyer said he could not recall a larger copper theft in the area than the one at the high school construction site, which happened Tuesday evening.
The rising cost of metals has brought scrap dealers more business in recent years, but also raised the risks.
“It’s difficult for recycling centers to know whether cut pipes were stolen,” Troyer said.
There is no way to trace it, Contento said. His scrapyard has been hit by thieves — both stealing metal and selling it — many times over the years, forcing him to enhance security.
Contento said a New York state law that went into effect in 2008 requires scrapyard owners to take photo identification of anyone selling more than $50 worth of metals.
“They were stealing from us and would bring back our own copper,” Contento recalled. “There’s no way to track them down if you don’t take down their identification. We have to show where we bought that stuff.”
The $70,000 in copper and tools were taken Tuesday from a fenced-in area on the east side of the high school, where five storage units and a construction vehicle are located, Troyer said. The Bradys and DiPietro allegedly cut locks to get through the fence gate and then cut locks on the entrances to the storage units, Troyer said.
The three defendants are due back in court Wednesday.
For Earley, inadvertently paying $2,300 cash for stolen copper has put a dent in business.
He will not get repaid until after the prosecution concludes for the three suspects, and even then it could take time before all the money is repaid.
Even though he is out $2,300, Earley is optimistic.
“I’ll get my money back someday,” Earley said.
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