Stealing copper is not a clever idea


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

Criminals considering the recently popular field of copper theft should think again. Judges are just waiting to throw the book at thieves convicted of ripping metal from public facilities, and the profits to be gained have plummeted along with other segments of the economy. Stealing copper is no longer a smart idea among the dishonest.

Diamentino Reis, a 44-year-old former truck driver, admitted to stealing copper wire twice from the West Loch Golf Course last year. When he came back for a third leg, police were waiting. His foray cost taxpayers $27,000 to replace wire at the municipal course. He had pocketed $70,000 in two years from copper he had stolen elsewhere.

Reis might not have been aware that the Legislature had just made theft of copper a felony. Stunned, he slumped into his chair Wednesday when Circuit Judge Richard Perkins sentenced him to 10 years in prison for copper theft and drug charges; Reis blamed his need to steal on his drug addiction.

Reis undoubtedly was aware while committing the crime that copper prices had soared from 80 cents to $3.60 a pound in the previous four years. Since then, they have dropped to $1.37 a pound and are expected to sink even further as inventories continue to lower demand.

The soft market is hardly an inducement for scrap-metal dealers to continue playing the game. The new state law also puts them at risk. In January, Kalihi dealer Kyung Hee Chon was fined $18,500 after pleading no contest to a theft felony and four misdemeanors of scrap-metal license violations; the new law, which requires scrap dealers to properly document their transactions, had not taken effect. Chon shut down his scrap-metal business to avoid prison time and began recycling aluminum cans.