Six arrested in scrap metal bust
Indianapolis police broke up a suspected ring of scrap metal thieves with tactics that could keep other crooks from cashing in on you.
It may be the quietest crime spree central Indiana has ever seen, thieves making off with millions of dollars in metal from homes, cars and businesses. Most victims never even knew they were vulnerable.
Six people were arrested in a multi-agency bust after police say they stole more than $160,000 worth of scrap metal. Police say new tools will help them track down people who steal your metal.
The Marion County prosecutor says the group - described as a "gang of thieves" by authorities - operated out of a vacant car dealership in Indianapolis. They're accused of making over $160,000 by selling 23 tons of scrap metal - mostly in the form of copper wire - to scrap yards.
Circle City Recycling tipped police off to the gang's suspicious activity.
Jimichael Parker, the alleged ringleader, faces charges of theft, burglary and tax evasion. Five others are charged with theft and failure to file an income tax return. One of the men remains at large.
The men are accused of targeting empty commercial properties, but investigators say they can use the same tactics to go after thieves who target metal fixtures on homes. The city says there's a plan in place to identify repeat scrappers - those who steal copper wire from air conditioners, for example - and more accurately identify those individuals going forward.
"We believe we are using more imaginative ways to prosecute these cases," said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.
To put the problem in perspective, over $800,000 worth of A/C units were stolen in the first half of 2012 in Indianapolis. Eyewitness News has covered several stories of such thefts, including a recent one at an east side community center and a theft over the summer at a local food bank.
Nearly $10,000 worth of air conditioners were ripped from the roof of the Forest Manor Community Center. Its director worries thieves will come back for the new ones.
"This is an epidemic, from what I'm hearing. Everybody is experiencing this issue," said Regina Marsh, Forest Manor.
Circle City Recycling, who tipped police off to the suspicious activity of the six suspects, voluntarily uses an Internet-based tracking system. Every customer's name, license, and vehicle, as well as pictures of the transaction are collected and available to police. It can track individuals even if they move to different scrap yards or pawn shops.
"We have to keep all that information for them for five years," said Andrew Jensen, Circle City Recycling.
Police and city inspectors are aggressively enforcing existing record-keeping regulations on scrap yards, and proposing tougher ones.
A new Indianapolis ordinance would require scrap yards to participate in a computerized recording system which keeps records on people who sell scrap metal, including their name, their physical description, their vehicle description and license plate, and an address. It would also eliminate cash payments. That means the scrap yard business would have to mail a check to the person at an address.
The ordinance, which will be brought before the City-County Council, would make it easier for police to follow the money and make arrests.
Investigators say the money trail is important. If the physical evidence can't connect a suspect to a specific crime, investigators could pursue tax fraud charges.