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Theft of veterans' plaques (sad but true) could be federal crime

December 14, 2011 |  1:54 pm

Scrap metal

That's how Congressman Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) described a rash of thefts of plaques from veterans’ memorials that have spurred him to introduce related legislation. The Protect Veterans' Memorials Act would make transporting stolen veterans' memorials, monuments or plaques of any value across state lines a federal crime.

"The stealing of plaques off veterans’ memorials has been an epidemic in Connecticut," he said.

Police believe the metal plaques -- such as ones stolen in Ansonia, Conn., that honored local residents who served in World War II and the Vietnam War -- are being sold for scrap.

Plaques honoring local Medal of Honor recipient Frank P. Witek were swiped in Derby, Conn., and a historic marker honoring Commodore Isaac Hull, a commander during the War of 1812, was reported missing in Shelton, Conn. Plaques bearing veterans' names were pried from a monument in New Britain, Conn., last year.

"This is a first in this area," Ansonia Police Lt. Andrew Cota lamented in an interview.

The money the thieves will make pales in comparison with the cost of replacing the plaques, Murphy said in an interview Wednesday. "Small towns in Connecticut don’t have five and $10,000 lying around to reforge these plaques," he said.

Current law makes it a federal felony to transport stolen goods of more than $5,000, subject to a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of double the amount of the item stolen or $250,000, whichever is larger. Murphy’s bill would remove the $5,000 threshold, making veterans' monuments of any value subject to the federal law.

"What we think is happening is that these thieves are laying low and planning to bring the plaques out of state to scrap dealers," Murphy said. "We think it’s important to have a federal penalty since the trade is likely to cross state lines."


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-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A Connecticut congressman believes that veterans' memorials are being stolen so they can be sold as scrap metal, such as that seen here. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times