St. Croix police recover stolen scrap metal, detain shop owner
Published: August 30, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. CROIX - A joint task force operation throughout most of the day Thursday led to the recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen equipment from a scrap metal shop and the detention of the shop's owner.
St. Croix Deputy Police Chief Arthur Hector said Thursday that his department spearheaded the organization of the task force as a directive from Chief James Parris in response to a number of incidents of copper thefts across the district in the last few months.
"We have seen an increase of the theft of wires and equipment that affected hundreds of residents," he said. "We knew we had to put an end to it."
Hector said that members of the task force set out Thursday and converged upon each of the scrap metal operations across the island.
The task force included officers from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Waste Management Authority, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, the V.I. Police Department and V.I. Fire Service. The agencies conducted inspections of the operators' properties and documents under their jurisdiction to ensure that everything was up to regulations.
Hector said task force officials checked for business licenses, fire inspections and environmental infractions, and officers canvassed the properties with hopes of finding evidence of the stolen property.
Davidson Charlemagne, fire inspector, said the task force visited seven business, and most were in compliance with their licenses and had passed fire inspections.
Those businesses that were found with minor infractions in other area were issued fines and deadlines to correct whatever problems had been outlined by the enforcement officers and inspectors.
Once the task force arrived at Francis Metal in Estate Cottage early Thursday afternoon, they began to find materials that were questionable, according to police.
As about 20 officers and inspectors fanned out across more than an acre of property at Francis Metal, they found a large spool of fiber optic cable tucked against the fence line.
Brand new amplifiers, hard connectors and other telephonic and electrical equipment were found in boxes, heaped in piles and stocked in a trailer. Charred wires were left in a pile near the front of the office area, and another pile of freshly stripped copper glowed bright orange in the afternoon sun.
Not far away, near a pile of wheel rims, rotors and brake drums, were about a half dozen shaved down manhole covers.
Waste Management Enforcement Supervisor Vincia Gomes inspected the remains of the covers, that are now just more than 1 foot in diameter and confirmed that they are property of the authority. She said she had issued a number of citations at the site for how materials were stored near a crusher on the northern side of the property, but the stolen property is a clear violation of the permits issued to the business.
Once officers got confirmation from Gomes and from a representative of Innovative that the equipment found belonged to them, they turned their direction toward taking people into custody.
By early afternoon only one man, who police only identified as the owner of the business, was detained.
In addition to reports that residents and businesses had been victimized by having air conditioning and other wiring removed for its copper content, public utilities continuously were victimized by the copper thieves, trying to sell the metal at the expense of interrupting service and risking lives.
Innovative Telephone has had about seven incidents of theft in just more than a month. Incidents included reports of spans of 400-pair cable being stolen leaving hundreds of Innovative Telephone subscribers without telecommunication services.
Even as police detained the scrap metal shop owner on Thursday, Innovative issued a statement reporting an outage affecting about 130 customers in the Salt River area because of a copper wire theft.
Deliberate disruption of telecommunication services is a federal offense because it can affect the ability of emergency responders and other individuals to communicate, according to Innovative.
Thieves also have stolen cables and other equipment from the V.I. Water and Power Authority, and the Waste Management Authority has been victimized with a rash of stolen manhole covers across the island. Officials said unknown individuals were removing manhole covers, especially in low traffic or isolated areas, and selling them to local scrap metal companies.
Hector said residents with information about illegal activities, such as cable and equipment theft, can report them to 911 or the Crime Stoppers USVI confidential tip line at 1-800-222-8477.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org