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Rhode Island recyclers may face new cash limits

Keywords: Tags  copper scrap, Copper Theft Prevention Act, Rhode Island Recycled Metals, Edward Sciaba, recycling, Nathan Laliberte

NEW YORK — Rhode Island recyclers would face tighter restrictions on cash transactions if legislators pass a new bill aimed at curbing the theft of copper.

Under the Copper Theft Prevention Act, recyclers would be prohibited from paying cash for transactions above $500 for regulated metals, which include copper. For all purchases above $500, payment must be made by check.

The law would also require dealers to obtain a license from the state Office of the Attorney General in order to buy or receive regulated metals.

"Theft is already punishable under the law, but to address this specific kind of theft we must not only go after the thieves but also those businesses that are abetting theft by purchasing the stolen copper materials," according to state Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D., District 4), a sponsor of the bill. "Those purchases are, knowingly or not, creating an impetus for more thefts."

The law also calls for authorized recyclers to require proof of identification with the seller’s photograph, date of birth and current address. Sellers would also have to sign a document stating their legal ownership of the property being sold.

Violators of the law would face misdemeanor charges. If the property in such a transaction is more than $500, violators would face a $2,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

Some recyclers had concerns about the bill, citing increased administrative costs and the possibility that legitimate sellers would be scared off from doing business.

"These types of laws don’t necessarily prevent creeps from doing business," according to Edward Sciaba, general manager of Providence-based Rhode Island Recycled Metals LLC.

Putting cash restrictions in place would mean that copper thieves would likely travel to nearby Massachusetts, where there is no cash limit on transactions, he said.

"They are not coming in with anything over $500 anyway," Sciaba added. "These guys go from yard to yard and sell their stolen copper in $100 to $200 bundles. The people this will affect the most are the ones doing legitimate business, like plumbers and contractors. Not everyone has time to go to the bank and deposit a check."

The bill has been referred to the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee and was scheduled for a hearing Jan. 29.

"Times are tough for everybody," Sciaba said. "Copper theft is going to happen no matter what laws get passed. It really comes down to scrapyards doing their due diligence and knowing who they are doing business with."

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