Police search salvage yards for stolen scrap metalUndercover police officers have spent the last seven months conducting a stolen property investigation involving scrap metal.
By: By DAN HOLTZ/Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, The Daily Telegram
Undercover police officers have spent the last seven months conducting a stolen property investigation involving scrap metal.
The investigation culminated in the search Wednesday of five Eau Claire-area scrap and salvage yards by dozens of law enforcement officers from throughout west-central Wisconsin.
Undercover officers were selling scrap metal such as beer barrels and wire and metal paraphernalia owned by railroads “that should have raised red flags as to where this stuff came from,” Eau Claire Deputy Police Chief Eric Larsen said.
Officers received search warrants Wednesday morning from an Eau Claire County judge and executed searches at five scrap and salvage yards: Toy’s Scrap and Salvage Corp., Cooley’s Statewide Scrap and Salvage, Max Phillips and Son, U-Can Recycling and, in Chippewa Falls, Spickler Salvage and Equipment.
Nothing was removed from U-Can Recycling, Eau Claire Police Lt. Tim Golden said.
Railroad signal wire was taken from Max Phillips and Son. Beer kegs were recovered from Spickler Salvage and Equipment. A stolen auto and other auto parts were taken from Toy’s Scrap and Salvage. Nothing was removed from Cooley's Statewide Scrap and Salvage, but there was evidence of violations of the state Department of Transportation's motor vehicle salvage laws, Golden said.
Cooley’s management issued a statement Wednesday afternoon confirming that police did not find any stolen materials at their business.
“We copy everyone's (identification) and get their plate number when we purchase scrap,” the statement said. “We definitely do not want to buy stolen scrap. We want to work with police to solve this problem of stolen scrap.”
If law enforcement has been investigating stolen property for the past seven months, “why didn’t they work with us to solve this problem?” the statement asked.
Cooley officials say their business has been broken into several times during the past year, and law enforcement hasn’t given them any follow-up information regarding the break-ins.
Because of the high cost of scrap metal, the DOT has emphasized investigating both licensed and unlicensed salvage dealers, DOT fraud investigator Jim Anderson said.
“We are currently involved in several operations such as this and will be conducting additional audits of many salvage dealers across the state in the coming months,” Anderson said.
Police say since January 2006, the Canadian National Railway has reported 12 incidents of theft involving railroad material totaling $56,000 in Chippewa, Rusk, Polk, Washburn and Douglas counties in Wisconsin and in St. Louis County, Minnesota.
During the same period, the Union Pacific Railroad had more than $113,000 worth of railroad material, signal wire and copper wire taken in Wisconsin.
Xcel Energy reports its loss of copper wire and materials by theft exceeds $650,000 since 2006.
In 2006, the Eau Claire Police Department alone investigated $59,000 worth of metal theft cases.
Police reports from the investigation will be forwarded to the Eau Claire County district attorney’s office.
— Copyright © 2008, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram / Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services