BREWER, Maine — Last week, three people were indicted by a Penobscot County grand jury for stealing copper from Bangor Hydro, costing the company $35,000.
Earlier in March, two men were charged with stealing metal from a man’s barn in Sebec and selling it to a scrap yard. On March 9, an Appleton man was arrested for stealing metal from the home of a man who had recently died.
The list goes on, and it has been a problem for years and it’s continuing, according to police.
“It kind of goes in spurts,” said Waldo County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Dale Brown. “You’ll be good for a couple of weeks and then you get a crew that goes through the area.”
“Police tell me people are stealing for drug money,” said Bud Spaulding, co-owner of Spaulding LH & Sons in Brewer. “I’ve also heard of people taking things from a neighbor’s dooryard they shouldn’t have taken. It’s everywhere.”
The state has passed laws in helping curb the thefts and scrap yards have measures in place to prevent them from accepting stolen property.
“We take a driver’s license, photo ID, registration, time of day and what day it was [when someone brings in metal to us],” said Spaulding. “Anything over $50, by state law, requires we write them a check.”
Spaulding said his company doesn’t take iron, so he doesn’t see many people he suspects of stealing, but he does run across it. And because he has been in the business for 38 years, he knows what to look for.
“If they don’t want to give an ID or if it’s a couple of young kids with a lot of new shinny copper. That would be a red flag,” said Spaulding.
With the price of No. 2 copper at $2.65 per pound and No. 1 copper between $2.75-2.80 per pound, it’s easy to see why people would steal it, he said.
“Say you have 10 pounds of No. 2 copper. That’s $26.50,” he said. “That’s [just] a handful and it adds up pretty fast.”
Joe Pinkham, owner of B&S Scrap Recycling in Hudson, said most metals have gone up considerably in price in the past year.
“We’re probably up maybe $20-30 a ton for iron,” said Pinkham.
Pinkham said if he thinks an item is stolen, he will refuse to buy it. He added that police show up at his yard about once a week looking for stolen metal.
“If it looks suspicious or we thought it was stolen, we would tell you right up straight that it looks suspicious to us,” said Pinkham.
Pinkham said it’s better not to buy something that may be stolen because it’s the scrap dealer who gets hurt most by metal thieves.
“We had a regular customer come in and we bought $400 of material from him [that turned out to be stolen],” said Pinkham. “The guy who was stolen from got his material back, [but] I’m the one who essentially got stolen from.”
Spaulding noted that thieves are usually required to pay restitution by the court.
“You never get it,” said Spaulding. “That’s why you have to be very careful. None of your honest dealers want that [stolen] stuff because they don’t want to lose [money].”
Both Spaulding and Pinkham said their businesses cooperate with police, but there are some smaller yards who won’t, they said.
“There should be something out there to protect the scrap dealer,” said Pinkham, adding that it’s difficult to know if an item is stolen, especially if it’s a common material, like brake rotors. “It’s hard to pinpoint stolen material.”
Sgt. Brown said police agencies have gotten better at tracking down people they suspect of stealing metal.
“We have a pretty decent set up with new bulletins,” said Brown. “Like, if there’s an incident in Winterport, we make sure Hampden’s aware of it and keep an eye out for it.”
Brown added the public should be diligent in helping prevent the thefts.
“If a neighbor’s property is vacant, they should report suspicious activity,” said Brown. “I know how my neighbors are and who comes and goes. It’s just a part of being aware.”