Gary Waters is at his wits’ end.
A resident of southern Cass County, Waters has been victim of copper thieves, most recently with the theft of buckets of scrap from his residence.
The topper for Waters, however, was at a rental house near Motley that he takes care of for a friend. A renter, whom Waters described as a “the nicest guy,” destroyed the house to the tune of $10,000 by ripping copper out of the walls and stealing precious metals from other equipment, including the water heater.
“The minute our back was turned, he raped us,” Waters said of the renter, who is now in jail on probation violations on unrelated crimes. “It’s a trend around here.”
There has been a rise in recyclable thefts in the area the past few years including copper pipes, copper wire and water meters. The reason is because the of high prices for such metals.
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said he hasn’t seen a spike in copper and other metal thefts in his county but they have been consistent. Most recently his deputies investigated a case of copper wire spools being stolen from gas companies.
While copper is probably the most targeted metal, Burch said thieves are taking what they can find.
“The weird thing is we’ve had some gates stolen this year and we’re contributing that to scrap metal prices increasing,” Burch said. “It’s becoming common. Those materials are becoming worth some money and they’re not as traceable as a stolen TV or gun. If a thief can get a hold of copper it’s hard to trace and they’re difficult to catch.”
In the Brainerd area recently there has been a string of thefts of metals, copper and brass, from propane companies. In August, a man was arrested after police found him asleep on the floor of an unoccupied house. The man was in the process of stealing copper pipes from the residence and others in the area, police said.
Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said investigators are finding similarities in copper thefts from other communities. In most cases, the thieves are selling their stolen goods well outside of the Brainerd area, he said.
“It’s like burglars, they don’t tend to pawn their items in the same city where they steal it,” McQuiston said.
According to the FBI, copper thieves are threatening infrastructure by targeting electrical substations, cell towers, telephone lines, railroads, water wells, construction sites and vacant homes for lucrative profits.
The demand for copper from developing nations such as China and India is creating a robust international copper trade, the FBI reported, and thieves are exploiting the demand and resulting surge in price.
To combat the metal thefts, area law enforcement agencies have been working with recycling centers to report suspicious activity. Burch said a problem that has arose is that thieves are getting smarter and not selling their wares all in one place.
For homeowners, Burch said people need to secure metals as best they can and keep them out of site, whether one would think of them as precious or not.
“You can’t leave valuable items around and the value of an item can change from week to week or day to day,” Burch said. “Don’t tempt thieves.”
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.