The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, county environmental health officials and police released new details Wednesday afternoon
about a sting operation uncovering local recycling centers that repeatedly purchased stolen metals and other materials.
A task force that included local law enforcement agencies, the district attorney's and sheriff's offices, PG&E, AT&T, Union Pacific Railroad and BART collaborated in the undercover operation that led to the serving of search warrants at seven junk dealers and recycling centers in Contra Costa County on Tuesday.
At each of the recycling centers, police seized documents and stolen materials such as copper wire and communications cables apparently purchased from thieves, according to the district attorney's office.
The search warrant operations marked the end of a six-month investigation prompted by a rise in metal thefts from businesses, utilities and governmental entities such as cities and school districts countywide, District Attorney Mark Peterson.
"Every taxpayer pays for this," Peterson said. "It's unbelievable ... the amount of property that's being stolen is in the millions of dollars."
Last summer, Concord police initiated an investigation into stolen metal purchases at Pleasant Paper Recycling Inc., also known as Pleasant Hill Recycling, located at 1320 Galaxy Way in Concord.
Suspects involved in a metals theft case at the time had admitted to police that they had successfully sold stolen metals at the recycling
That led to the multi-agency undercover operation involving six more recycling facilities - VV Recycling in Martinez, Pittsburg and Christenson Recycling Centers in Pittsburg and Richmond recyclers R.E.N., SIMS Metal and Action Metal Recycling, authorities said.
In their investigation, undercover officers posed as thieves selling seemingly stolen cables provided by PG&E, Amtrak and other entities,
Deputy District Attorney Gary Koeppel said today.
The stolen metals were clearly marked and should have recycling center personnel to call either police or the company to which the materials
belonged, attorneys said.
Instead, seven out of eight recyclers investigated turned a blind eye and bought the stolen materials immediately, bypassing a state-mandated three-day waiting period to verify that they were dealing with authorized sellers, Koeppel said.
Additionally, none of the facilities suspected of purchasing stolen items were authorized to buy materials from utilities, he said.
Undercover operatives returned to each of the recycling facilities multiple times and never faced any obstacles in selling stolen goods,
During raids on the facilities Tuesday, law enforcement seized stolen wires and other materials purchased at the recycling centers,
including Amtrak train car cables and a ramp stolen from a state Highway 4 construction site earlier this week and sold to a Pittsburg recycler for just $60, Peterson said.
The district attorney said his office must now sort through "stacks and stacks of boxes" of records and stolen evidence from each recycler to determine how to charge the recyclers.
In addition to criminal charges such as receiving stolen property, each business may be liable for tens of thousands of dollars for California business and professions code violations, Koeppel said.
Through these recyclers, Peterson said, local authorities hope to find the thieves responsible for selling the stolen materials.
Those suspects are generally "individuals and organized groups who appear to be motivated by the quick sale of stolen metals," Peterson said.
"The goal of this operation is to cut off the profit centers for the thieves and force the junk dealers and recyclers to comply with state law," he said.