SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Scrap metal thefts are on the rise along the Salt Lake valley. Thieves are targeting the copper wiring from UDOT lamp posts along the highway costing Utah taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, but it doesn’t stop there. They’re also targeting vehicles parked outside and stripping them of their catalytic converters.
ABC 4’s Kimberly Nelson wanted to find out where this metal is being sold and what’s being done to stop it.
Utah Metal Works sees about 120 tons of metal a day come in for recycling, some sheet metal, some copper, some automobile scrap and some of it is stolen.
Mark Lewon, President of Utah Metal Works, says it's easy to tell what's been stolen but it's not that easy to refuse it.
Lewon explained, "There's two schools of thought, the one school of thought is that don't buy it don't give them the money, our thought is two-fold, it's one, they're going to go somewhere else and giving them the money and two, we're going to put a stop to it, but not in a confrontational way."
Instead what Utah Metal Works does, if they suspect someone of stealing, is immediately notify police with pictures of video of the alleged crime.
"Here's the guy coming in, here's the material in his truck, there's him getting paid, here's him getting weighed the whole thing,” explained Lewon.
He says the problem is unless the person has stolen thousands of dollars worth of metal they're not going to do any time.
Lewon said, "You get caught for stealing something most of the time these people aren't caught red handed, so you're catching them and you're going to get them maybe possession of stolen property and maybe you're going to get them on theft by deception."
That's why he's working with Representative Jack Draxler on House Bill 108 which is designed to better track and prosecute metal thieves.
Rep. Draxler told ABC 4 News, "Right now a metal thief on the first violation it's only a Class C misdemeanor, I’m raising that to a Class B misdemeanor which is more jail time and a higher fine."
Draxler explained a second offense could result in up to a year in jail and the thieves aren't the only ones facing penalties. Metal buyers would also be held responsible if they don't track every person who comes in to sell. Currently buyers aren't required to take a copy of an id if the load is less than a hundred dollars worth or under 50 pounds. The new bill looks to close that loop hole.
The metal theft bill has already made it's way though the committee and is expected to be heard by the full House later this week.