Copper thieves behind steel bars

Published 15 March 2007

Roberts gang stole $100,000 in wiring from New York substations

Those holding stock in copper mines are sitting pretty these days, with the not-so-precious metal tripling in price since 2002 (from $.75 per pound to $3). The increase comes in response to rising demand from China and India, from rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, and from the Iraq War effort. It is all supply and demand, but one of the unaccounted costs is that America’s unprotected copper wiring all of a sudden makes a tempting target to anyone daring enough to grab it. There are two main types of copper thieves: organized criminals and methamphetine addicts. These are not exclusive categories.

Authorities in Albany, New York, the Times Union reports, have arrested men who appear to be fall into the second group, although the article does not explicitly mention drug abuse. “The operation’s reputed mastermind, Jeremy Roberts, 23, of Averill Park, was arrested in December as he allegedly cut wire from a spool at the National Grid substation in Menands,” writes Danielle Furfaro. That was the group’s MO. First they would break into various substations (and one railyard) in the upstate area and steal large amounts of copper. Then, under cover of night, they would drive to the top of a nearby mountain and burn off the rubber coatings. Using a series of false identities they would then sell the scraps to metal recyclers. Not surprisingly, “Roberts has a history of arrests for stealing scrap.”

The police estimate the Roberts gang made $100,000 on the sales, but that does not begin to approach the damaged caused by delays and disruptions. “Theft of National Grid property can cause outages, slow down response time and cause injury or death to those entering the facilities,” said official Craig Masterson. “We cannot allow electric or gas service to be disrupted by criminals.”