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Police say scrap metal thefts are on the rise

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By Larry Rowell

If one man’s stolen trash becomes another man’s treasure, then he’s probably going to jail.
A crime that rarely occurred in Casey County a decade ago is now being committed several times a week.
Scrap metal thefts are up significantly and law enforcement officials attribute the increase to the drug trade, high unemployment rate and skyrocketing scrap metal prices, said Casey County Sheriff Jerry Coffman.
“Most of it revolves around drugs,” Coffman said is the reason for the thefts. “They’re stealing everything from house siding to junk iron and even old car bodies that people put in creek beds to keep them from washing out.”
Coffman also said that deputies are getting more reports about trespassers searching for scrap metal on other people’s land.
Thomas Butler, co-owner of Butler’s Recycling in Liberty, said that three years ago, he had about 40 customers a day wanting to sell scrap. Now, he said, that number has more than tripled, to about 120.
“It’s the highest prices it’s ever been,” he said, adding that an increase in sales also means an increase in the number of stolen items customers bring in to sell.
Butler said that several years ago, he might have someone bring in a stolen item every three months but now it’s almost a twice weekly occurrence.
To the average person, it might seem difficult to identify metal sold at a recycling center.
But to help law enforcement officials identify stolen scrap metal, Butler has taken several measures to send a message to individuals who want to sell stolen items.
“You have to have a photo ID to get paid and we get the tag number and a description of the vehicle that brought the scrap in,” Butler said, adding that cameras have also been installed on the premises located on Bee Lee Spur Road off West Ky. 70.
In addition, when copper is brought in to be sold, a picture is taken of the seller’s ticket next to the pile of copper, said Cassi Smith, manager of Butler’s Recycling in Campbellsville.
And it’s not only people who steal scrap metal that are trying to make more money.
Butler said that some people who bring in scrap in the back of a truck will try to add extra weight underneath the pile of scrap.
“We’ve seen people put rocks in old fridges and hide cinder blocks at the bottom of a pile of scrap,” Butler said.
Deputy Chad Weddle, who’s out at Butler’s Recycling about twice a week, said that people will take anything and everything out there to be sold.
However, what people don’t realize, Weddle said, is the small amount of money they receive in selling the stolen scrap isn’t worth the possible jail time.
“Somebody stole $50 worth of copper pipe from the heating/air-conditioning unit at the Hilltop Church of Christ on Shugars Hill Road. It’s ruined the unit and is going to cost the church $2,200 for a new unit,” Weddle said.
Weddle said that if caught, the perpetrator will be charged not with getting $50 from the copper but with damaging the heating and cooling unit.
“The criminal charge is based not on how much you got for selling the material — it’s the value of what it will cost to replace it,” Weddle said.
In another incident, Weddle said that someone stole $16,000 worth of material recently from Casey Stone Co. and got less than $800 for the copper wire that was sold.
And that’s a Class C felony that could land him in jail for five to 10 years, Weddle said.