August 2, 2008

Copper Thieves Hit Miller Plating

By GAVIN LESNICK, Courier & Press staff writer 464-7449 or [email protected]

Nearly two tons of copper bars worth more than $10,000 were stolen from a shut down metal plating business on Evansville's North Side this week, the latest in a series of area thefts of the valuable metal.

A manager for the former Miller Plating & Metal Finishing property, 1551 Allen Lane, discovered Tuesday that about 3,750 pounds of copper bars from the plating room had been removed overnight.

Copper has slipped in recent weeks but was trading Tuesday at about $3.70 a pound. That was down from more than $4 a pound at the beginning of the month, but still more than triple its value in 2003.

The result has been a surge in copper thefts in the Tri-State.

"It used to be you had people who would do it periodically," Evansville Police Department spokesman Steve Green said. "Now they're so desperate, they're stealing everything from air conditioners to siding. Wherever there's copper, they're taking it."

According to the report in the Miller Plating case, the thieves entered the main building and then accessed a secondary building that housed the plating room through a connecting tunnel. A padlocked door had blocked access, but the thieves broke through, the report said.

The copper bars were then unbolted from large tanks and taken away. The building does have a loading dock, which was likely used to load the bars into a truck, the report said.

Items inside the plant were recently auctioned off, and crews are currently in the process of dismantling and removing various parts of the machinery. Keith Carroll, the manager who discovered the theft, said the stolen copper was scheduled to be removed this week.

The amount of copper taken was a surprise, Carroll said, but the crime itself wasn't.

"I'm surprised they got that much but I'm not surprised it happened," he said. "We've been shut down. Word spreads around. People get ideas."

Area police agencies say there have been numerous copper thefts in recent months.

In April, Evansville police investigated a series of incidents where copper siding was torn off several Downtown buildings, including the Reitz Home Museum.

In June, the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department investigated more than $20,000 worth of copper stolen from a construction yard and a power substation.

Police believe the recent Miller Plating theft was "most likely committed by a former employee who knew the layout of the building," according to the report. Carroll said the perpetrators likely would have had to have some knowledge of the building and what was in it, but that it could have been anyone.

Miller Plating & Metal Finishing closed late last year, after filing for bankruptcy.

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