Local News

Law Enforcement Keeps Watchful Eye on Copper Sales

Posted January 4, 2007 10:41 p.m. EST

Copper is a precious metal for thieves, and soaring prices in the past year have only added to its luster.

Four times in six weeks, air conditioning units have been found ripped apart inside Billy Joe Swilley's business, Carolina Specialties.

"Ticked off is not even the word for it,” Swilley said. “I'm beyond ticked off."

The mess was caused by thieves looking for the copper inside, which sells for a $1.95 to $2.25 a pound.

"(It’s) a $3,000 unit,” Swilley said. “And by the time they get through and take it up here to the salvage yard, they get $50 for it."

Fayetteville police reported more than 300 copper thefts in 2006. The sheriff's office has also seen a spike.

"Because they want to get money to buy drugs, this is the fastest, the easiest, way to get it. And it's out there. It's plentiful,” said Debbie Tanna with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Offices.

Salvage company employees said it's difficult to tell whether copper is stolen because it has no identification code. Law officers said that in addition to air-conditioning units, thieves have preyed on copper pipes beneath houses

State law requires operators of salvage yards to keep records of everyone who brings in metals for sale.

At Cohen and Green Salvage Co., employees not only get the names and addresses of metal peddlers, but also their picture IDs to enter into a computer database. Cameras monitor everyone who comes to swap scrap for cash.

Cohen and Green Salvage President Michael Green said workers call police if the metal looks suspicious.

“And we've actually been able to give them an identification of who brought it in and what it was, and they were able to prosecute," Green said.

Green said 90 percent of his peddlers are legitimate.

 As for Billy Joe Swilley, he said he's now putting his air conditioning units on the roof.