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18 accused of copper theft scheme

Keywords: Tags  copper theft, Asarco, New Star Services, ADPS, Ryan Young, Tom Horne, Rene Arbizo, Gene Garcia Nathan Laliberte

NEW YORK — Eighteen people have been indicted for their alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar copper theft ring.

Most of the stolen copper was sent to a scrapyard in California before being shipped to international destinations, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (ADPS).

The accused, who face 136 felony counts, including illegally conducting an enterprise, conspiracy, money laundering and theft, include two former employees at Asarco LLC’s mine in Hayden, Ariz. "Rene Joe Arbizo and Gene Carlo Garcia were supervisors at the mine and played critical roles in the thefts," ADPS Captain Ryan Young said.

On Sept. 28 last year, the ADPS intercepted a load of 49 copper anodes, valued at about $171,000, on a tractor-trailer in northern Tucson, Ariz. Later that day, officials recovered an additional 56 anodes from a ranch in Marana, Ariz.

The ensuing investigation led to the discovery that two Asarco employees allegedly were involved in an elaborate copper theft scheme that included shipping stolen anodes to New Star Services, a scrap recycling facility in Upland, Calif., from where they allegedly were exported to ports in southern China. A subsequent search at New Star Services found an additional 24 anodes, and stolen anodes also were recovered from three separate cargo ships bound for China.

Representatives from New Star Services couldn’t be reached for comment.

"The metal recycler would purchase the stolen copper from the defendants at a fraction of the commodity price and would resell it to Chinese importers at a profit," Tom Horne, Arizona’s attorney general, said in a statement. In an effort to deceive U.S. Customs inspectors, workers at New Star allegedly blackened the raw copper with a torch to disguise the metal before loading it into cargo containers on ships destined for China, he said.

"This is a stunning example of theft on a massive scale," Horne said. "Copper production is a signature component of our state’s economy. For these defendants to abuse their positions at a mining producer and allow this valuable resource to be stolen and resold on the black market is unconscionable."

Tucson-based Asarco is an integrated copper mining, smelting and refining company with about 2,700 employees.

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