Published June 21. 2014 4:00AM
Area thieves hoping to cash in on higher metal prices have grown creative in recent years, stealing everything from a historic bronze monument in a Norwich cemetery to iron catch basin grates in Griswold, Lisbon and Plainfield.
Driven by drug addiction or just the desire for easy money, metal bandits have stripped the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems from homes and have stolen street signs, manhole covers and guard rails.
Earlier this week, state police charged two men posing as telecommunications workers with stripping copper from a telecommunications tower in North Stonington that served as a hub for state police communications, including 911 calls and three cellphone companies. One of the men, 24-year-old Jeffery Joergensen of Chepachet, R.I., was carrying a hypodermic needle and a spoon when he was arrested, according to a police report. He is being held in lieu of $50,000 at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center. His alleged accomplice, 25-year-old John Fahey of Pascoag, R.I., is free on a $25,000 bond, and both are due back in New London Superior Court on July 1.
On June 3, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a new law that municipal leaders hope will curb the theft of metal from municipalities. Public Act 14-83 makes it illegal for junkyard owners, scrap-metal processors and other dealers to buy municipal property unless it's accompanied by a letter from the town's chief executive or authorized department. The buyer must then send the money to the official designated in the letter of authorization.
The law could be difficult to enforce. David Waddington Sr., owner of Connecticut Scrap, which operates scrapyards in Uncasville, North Stonington, Putnam, Clinton and Hartford, said demolition contractors and others come in with storm grates and other materials that are not stolen.
"If a guy pulls in and looks suspicious and has a load of manhole covers, of course that's a red flag," Waddington said.
The laws needed to curb metal thefts are already in place, Waddington said. Scrapyards are required to photograph every item they purchase, copy the driver's license or seller's identification and photograph the license plate of the vehicle delivering the scrap metal.
Waddington said Connecticut Scrap and some of its competitors have invested in a software program called Scrap Dragon that enables the company's 85 workers to assist police instantly when they call or come in with a question about a specific item, person or vehicle.
"Our place is like the perfect mousetrap," he said. "It's all automated. We've had items found in our Putnam facility that were stolen from Hartford. The system works."
One time, he said, a competitor called to warn Connecticut Scrap about a suspicious person, Waddington said. When the person arrived, they called police and stalled the man for about 20 minutes until police arrived. The police found him with a bag of heroin, Waddington said.
Most scrappers are legitimate. Waddington said homeless people in Hartford come in daily to cash in cans. Construction bosses give workers scrap as a type of bonus. Others collect metals to supplement their incomes.
"We have people who bring in all kinds of crazy things," Waddington said. "We've had brand-new lawnmowers come across here. We've had vehicles that run. We've had antiques, old farm equipment and weights. Somebody's junk is somebody else's treasure."