Brazen thieves make off with two tons of copper
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you walk in and act like you own the place, perhaps you can.
That's the trick two men pulled off as they drove away from the Constellium Rolled Products Plant in Ravenswood with two tons of copper valued at $15,000, according to State Police.
The men posed as contractors doing business with the plant. Police say they drove across plant property in broad daylight, checked in with security and interacted with several Constellium employees before driving back out the gate with a truck bed so fully loaded it sagged.
"It's very bold to go in and act like they owned the place," said Trooper C.A. May of the State Police detachment in Ripley.
The lone security guard working the gate told police a white Ford F-350 crew-cab, long-bed, super-duty pickup pulled up to the Constellium gate at 3:08 p.m. Friday.
The guard said a 6-foot-tall, heavy-set Hispanic man got out of the truck.
That's when he began to tell his story.
"They posed as contractors and went in and said they were supposed to pick up this order of copper chops," May said.
Copper chops are scrap pieces of metal about the size of a BB pellet. The aluminum rolling mill accumulates the scrap over time through its alloy production and maintenance activities. Constellium regularly sells this scrap metal, so contractors and trucking company workers routinely visit the plant to pick it up.
The security guard who let the men on to plant grounds said he saw only one man at the entrance. Police believe the second man - who workers described as a thin Hispanic man about 5 feet 9 inches tall - was hiding in the truck at the time.
After using a bogus license number and identification on plant security forms, the security officer gave the heavier man a pass to get through the gate.
The men drove the truck to one of the plant's cast houses, where they told employees they were there to pick up the copper scrap.
"The foreman there said they looked like typical contractors they work with," May said. "The workers thought that's what they were there for, so they loaded it in the back of the vehicle."
Plant workers had the men drive the truck under a hopper that filled the bed with more than 4,000 pounds of copper scrap.
"They were pretty loaded - it was squatting the truck," May said.
It was about 3:30 p.m. when the men slowly drove the weighed-down truck back to the front gate. The guard told police the driver said he was going to make a quick trip into Ravenswood and then bring his security pass back.
The men never returned.
About 5 p.m., State Police officers were called to the plant security gate to begin an investigation.
Most of the employees interviewed said they didn't suspect the men were stealing the copper.
"The one thing they thought was odd was their hats," May said. "They said it was in the shape of a coal miner hat."
As a normal safety precaution, Constellium requires all individuals inside plant gates to wear hard hats, but the hats differ in style from the ones typically worn in coal mines.
Police viewed plant security footage that caught the incident in its entirety, but May said the footage was too blurry to make accurate identifications of the men or the license plate on their truck.
A Constellium spokeswoman declined to comment on the theft.
May said plant security officers have contacted several metal recyclers in both West Virginia and surrounding states.
Workers at an Ohio recycler told plant officials they received a call Friday from someone looking to sell a load of copper chops, but the caller never showed up at the plant to sell the material.
The state Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that made it illegal for state scrap yards and recycling centers to buy certain kinds of scrap metal without proof of lawful possession.
May said a two-ton copper sale would normally raise scrap dealers' suspicions. She hoped raising public awareness of the incident would increase chances of dealers informing police of anyone trying to sell suspicious metal.
"It'll be hard to get rid of it," she said. "If we get word out, all those recycling places aren't going to touch it."
She said anyone with information regarding the case should contact the Ripley detachment of the State Police at 304-372-7850.
Authorities now say other plants should review their procedures to prevent future heists.
"If these guys can get in and do this by simply posing as contractors, then I'd say other places should be extra cautious," May said. "I think they should be leery and probably step up their security a bit."