Scrap-metal dealers nabbed in copper sting
Honolulu police arrested two employees of two separate metal recycling companies yesterday in a two-month-long sting operation designed to short-circuit copper thefts on Oahu.
Police arrested Etsuko Okuda, 62, of Okuda Metal Inc. and Kyung Hee Chon, 44, of Aiea Recycling for violating a new state law requiring scrap dealers to obtain a receipt or notarized statement indicating the origin of the copper for sale. The new law also makes stealing as little as one pound of copper a felony.
The violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for a first offense, a $3,000 fine for a second offense and a $5,000 fine and six-month suspension of the scrap dealer's license for a third and subsequent offenses. If a dealer has three violations in five years, its license can be revoked.
The women were charged with two counts each. Police released both after Okuda posted $4,000 bail and Chon posted $6,000 bail. They are scheduled to appear in Honolulu District Court Oct. 1.
Chon's bail is higher because police arrested her in another sting operation in February after she accepted a 653-pound spool of copper wire that an undercover officer told her was stolen from Hawaiian Electric Co.
She pleaded no contest July 30 to felony attempted second-degree theft and to four scrap-dealer license violations, which are misdemeanors. Chon is scheduled to be sentenced in Circuit Court on Oct. 15.
No one from Aiea Recycling was available for comment about Chon's latest arrest.
However, Robert Okuda said the arrest of his mother, Etsuko Okuda, was due to a procedural oversight and a first for the family company.
"We know the old law," he said. "This was the amendment," which he said the company was instrumental in helping law enforcement and the Legislature draft.
The requirement for a receipt or notarized statement took effect July 1.
Okuda said the company will make the necessary corrections.
The Honolulu Police Department's Kalihi District started Operation Full Copper Jacket 2 in July after sending all 11 metal recyclers on Oahu letters informing them of the requirements of the new law, said Maj. Kurt Kendro, district commander.
Undercover officers visited each dealer twice during the operation, offering to sell miscellaneous pieces of copper provided by HECO, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and the Air Force, without the required documentation. Only two dealers, Aiea Recycling and Okuda Metal, accepted the copper from the undercover officers, Kendro said, and they each did so on two occasions.
Last year the value of copper reported stolen to HPD was $760,000. In the first seven months of this year, $395,000 worth of copper was reported stolen, Kendro said.