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144 tons of stolen copper seized at Port of L.A., officials say

November 13, 2012 |  2:55 pm
Copper ingots

These thieves had a lot of brass.

U.S. border enforcement agents and the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that an investigation into the September theft of copper from a mining facility in Hayden, Ariz., has led to the recovery at the Port of Los Angeles of 144 tons of stolen copper ingots about to be shipped to China.

Worth $1.25 million, the ingots are unrefined copper that contain traces of gold and silver and
weigh 806 pounds apiece. The 359 ingots were covered with a black powder-like substance which camouflaged the their true color, according to investigators.

Arizona authorities said they got a lead on the thieves as a result of a commercial vehicle traffic stop and search warrant on a residence. Officers seized copper in excess of $300,000, three truck tractors, three semi-trailers, one forklift and two handcarts.

Suspecting the metal ingots were headed for a seaport, police provided blueprints, pictures and details of the ingots that included dimensions, weight and mineral composition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

Officers at the Port of L.A. located six containers containing suspected stolen copper in October and halted three of them from leaving for Hong Kong the next day. Two other ships that had already departed for China with three containers whose contents were listed as scrap metal were ordered to return to port.

"This is an extremely dynamic and complicated criminal case. Our detectives did a terrific job from the outset tracking this theft from it's inception in Southern Arizona following the money all the way to the Port of Los Angeles," Robert Halliday, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Arizona DPS, said the investigation was continuing and suspects in the case have been identified, although no arrests have yet occurred.


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--  Bob Pool

Photo:  Federal authorities seized 144 tons of copper at the Port of Los Angeles about to be shipped to China. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection