As the value of scrap metal rises, so does the rate of metal theft.
Some local scrap yard owners are helping crack down on theft by catching culprits with the goods in their hands.
The value of nonferrous metals -- metals not containing iron -- is skyrocketing. Copper, for example, has increased in price three-fold in the last four years, according to Bryan McGannon, director of Media Relations & Marketing for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. ISRI is a trade association representing about 3,500 scrapyards across the nation.
Copper sells for more than $2 per pound, compared to 50 cents a pound nearly 20 years ago, said to Steve Lichtcsien, owner of Sandusky Steel & Supply.
Prices are controlled by the world economy and supply and demand. Other valuable metals include aluminum, stainless steel and brass.
"A lot of the materials are at relative highs," McGannon said.
ISRI works to deter theft through regional e-mail alerts about stolen goods, encouraging yard owners to take down seller identification information and work closely with local law enforcement.
But despite these efforts, thefts still pass through the system either by luck or because not all yards are aiding in the efforts.
Just last week Greg Emory, 41, of Sandusky, was arrested on two counts each of breaking and entering and theft after basement copper piping was discovered stolen from two houses on East Adams Street, according to police.
Charges for stealing scrap metal vary depending on the situation, according to Charlie Sams, Sandusky police assistant chief.
"It depends on how much they have and how they acquire them," he said.
Many thefts are motivated by drug habits, according to Capt. Paul Sigsworth of the Erie County Sheriff's Office.
"It's gotten worse lately because of heroin usage," he said.
Last month, 221 brass and copper flower urns, valued at $140 each, were stolen from Meadow Green Cemetery in Huron. This and other thefts are thought to have drug ties, he said.
"It's been going on for a while, but it's getting worse," Sigsworth said.
The vases were recovered from a scrapyard outside of Norwalk. Other stolen goods have been discovered at yards in Toledo, Mansfield, Fremont and Cleveland.
"A lot of the owners have a clue if something isn't right," Sigsworth said.
One such owner is Lichtcsien, who has started working with local law enforcement agencies to combat theft. In operation as a scrapyard since the 1930s, Sandusky Steel & Supply collects a variety of metal from industries within a five-county area for recycling purposes. They also buy from people off the street.
Metals are then sorted, baled and shipped to steel mills and foundries for meltdown and reuse. Video cameras at Sandusky Steel & Supply are also used to identify thieves, he said.
If someone seems suspicious they may be questioned about where their materials came from and could be turned away, Lichtcsien added.
"We've taken a pretty aggressive stance to try and stop it in our neck of the woods," he said.
When a customer is from out of town, it's usually a red flag something might be wrong, according to Lichtcsien.
"It's a pretty small town, we have a pretty stable customer base," he said. "They stick out like a sore thumb when they come into a place like this."
Metal thefts are common place in large cities like Cleveland, Chicago or Detroit, Lichtcsien said.
"To see it in Sandusky is a little shocking," he said. "What's hard for our industry are the legitimate players. We're up against the wall because we have all the bad apples."
Other recent Erie County metal thefts
In the last seven months 17 separate metal thefts or attempted thefts have been reported to Sandusky police. They range from theft of copper basement piping to copper wire and stolen aluminum. Of those, 11 are still unsolved.
Besides Emory's arrest after two September break-ins in, he alone has been linked to three other metal thefts.
* Sept. 28 -- 611 Sycamore Line, theft of copper pipes.
* Oct. 1 -- 504 Putnam Street, copper wire stolen off a water heater.
* Oct. 11 -- 1608 Pierce Street, theft of copper pipes.
In addition, in April, 40-year-old Bodie R. Hughes was charged with possession of criminal tools, breaking and entering and theft for his involvement with the disappearance of copper wire from Dixon Ticonderoga Company on Hayes Avenue, according to police.
And at the end of September a spool of about 1,000 feet of copper cable was stolen from the construction site outside of the Kalahari Waterpark addition, according to the sheriff's office. The metal was valued at more than $5,000. So far there have been no arrests.