After a seven month undercover investigation, Eau Claire Police search for hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen scrap metal at area scrap yards.
The police department says officers recovered:
-a stolen vehicle
-proprietary beer kegs
-railroad signal wire
-stolen catalytic converters
The police department does not have a total value of these items at this time. Investigators say they also found 200 violations of the Motor Vehicle Salvage Statutes.
The information will be forwarded to the Eau Claire County District Attorney's Office.
Officer Jason Kaveney says, "The overall hope of this entire investigation is that this will begin to facilitate community awareness, cooperation between law enforcement and salvage yards, and also the message that the theft, the stealing of property and scraping of metal is not tolerated in this community."
Kaveney says they searched for copper wire, aluminum and steel barrels, and railroad track iron and steel, most with identifying stamps or marks.
Kaveney says people are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of this material from companies like Union Pacific Railroad, Xcel Energy, and Beer Distributors, and they're taking the metals to scrap yards, where they're getting cash for their stolen goods.
Kaveney says more than 70 officers from area jurisdictions searched five businesses Wednesday morning.
The businesses are:
Toy's Scrap & Salvage
Cooley's Statewide Scrap and Salvage
Max Phillips and Son
U-Can Recycling Inc.
Because of the search, the scrap yards are closed Wednesday (today).
We did talk to Robert Johnson, who owns U Can Recycling. He says police did serve a search warrant there (today) Wednesday morning, but did not find any stolen metals at his business.
John Hime from Max Phillips says "Peddler theft is a serious problem in the recycling industry and Max Phillips is committed to try and put a stop to this."
We could not reach anyone at Spickler Recycling, or Cooley's. Toy's Salvage says it may have a comment later Wednesday.
According to state law, people dropping off scrap metal must be over the age of 18 and have a driver's license or other form of ID.
The scrap metal dealer should be recording the details of the sale, including vehicle information, time and date of purchase and a description of what's being sold.
Since January 1, 2006, the Canadian National Railway has experienced in excess of 12 incidents of theft involving railroad material totaling over $56,000 in the Wisconsin counties of Chippewa, Rusk, Polk, Washburn, Douglas, and in the Minnesota county of St. Louis.
From January 1, 2006 to May 20, 2008, the Union Pacific Railroad has been the victim of numerous thefts involving railroad material, signal wire, and copper wire totaling over $113,150 in Wisconsin alone.
During 2006, 2007, and 2008, Xcel Energy advised their loss of copper wire and materials by theft is in excess of $655,434.
In 2006, The Eau Claire Police Department saw approximately $59,000 worth of metal theft cases.
The search warrants were executed through combined efforts from the following agencies:
Eau Claire Police Department
Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department
Chippewa Falls Police Department
Trempealeau County Sheriff's Department
St. Croix County Sheriff's Department
Altoona Police Department
Chippewa County Sheriff's Department
Wisconsin State Patrol
Pierce County Sheriff's Department
Eau Claire Communications Center
Jackson County Sheriff's Department
West Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force
Dunn County Sheriff's Department
Union Pacific Railroad
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Canadian National Railway
Eau Claire Police Chief Jerry Matysik says:
"By purchasing metal that is obviously stolen, scrap metal dealers are facilitating additional thefts in our community. Sadly, it is convenient for these businesses to look the other way in an effort to increase their profits, rather than to do the right thing and refuse to accept stolen items."
Eau Claire Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Larsen says:
"Metal theft is a problem that impacts the safety and quality of life for every citizen in the state. Metal stolen just in Eau Claire has included stolen railroad switch signal cable that left train engineers blind to the safe status of rail lines in the county, stolen ground cable from power substations, and stolen manhole covers that left manholes on our public streets open for vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians to fall into."
Wisconsin Department of Transportation Fraud Investigator Jim Anderson states:
"Due to the high cost of scrap metal, investigating both licensed and unlicensed salvage dealers has been a point of emphasis for the Department of Transportation this year. We are currently involved in several operations such as this and will be conducting additional audits of many salvage dealers across the state in the coming months."
We will have more on this story tonight at FIVE and SIX on NewsCenter 13.