I bet these two will go down hard.
Salvage dealer helps detect copper thefts
Salvage dealer helps detect copper thefts
By T.J. GREANEY of the Tribune’s staff
Published Saturday, April 19, 2008
Dave Fusselman of Moberly has been in the scrap metal business for almost 30 years, but the copper pieces that came in by the bucketful this winter and spring left him scratching his head.
"I just thought, ‘Why would anyone throw away millions of tiny pipe caps?’ " he said of his initial reaction to the odd lot.
As it turned out, the pieces weren’t pipe caps but "bullet cups," and federal prosecutors are now charging two men with stealing more than 16,000 pounds of the material from an Army munitions plant in Independence, where they worked.
The theft is deemed more serious because it occurred during wartime and carries a maximum penalty of 245 years in prison for one of the men.
Authorities credit Fusselman, a younger brother to Randolph County Prosecutor Mike Fusselman, with blowing the whistle on the caper.
"The mistake they made was trying to sell to the prosecutor’s brother," Dave Fusselman said of the suspects.
"He’s the key to this whole thing," Odessa Police Chief Robert Kinder said of the salvage operator, according to the Kansas City Star. "It was a citizen making a report. You’ve got a person here going beyond the call."
It all started Sept. 27, when a man later identified by investigators as Charles D. Osborn, 45, of Odessa went to Fusselman’s Salvage Co. with several 5-gallon buckets full of the shiny caps.
Employees of Fusselman’s noted the odd, smooth shape of the items but didn’t think much more about it. They paid the man the standard copper salvage rate of $3.10 per pound.
Osborn returned two more times in October, "testing the waters," Fusselman said. By the third trip, Fusselman and his staff were suspicious. They took down the vehicle’s description and license plate number. "These things weren’t dented up or damaged to where you’d say they were rejects," he said. "They didn’t look like they should be scrapped."
Asked about the source of the copper, Osborn said there had been a railroad derailment and a friend had helped clean up the spilled material. That story only further set off warning lights for the scrap shop workers.
But what happened next put that speculation into overdrive. On Nov. 5, Osborn’s alleged accomplice, Timothy D. Langevin, 36, of Independence pulled up with 2,540 pounds of the copper bullet cups in buckets filling a U-Haul trailer.
For the next four months, Fusselman continued to buy scrap copper when it was proffered and scanned industry alerts to see whether anything similar was reported stolen. In March, he called the Moberly Police Department to report his suspicions, and police traced the license plate to an Odessa rental dealership.
Prosecutors later accused Osborn and Langevin, who were employees of Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, of brazenly using a company forklift to remove from the factory skidloads of boxes containing bullet cups.
The plant contracts with the Army to produce 7.62 mm ammunition for small-arms weapons.
By March 28, Osborn’s last trip, the alleged thieves had traded in for salvage 16,528 pounds of copper valued at almost $80,000. The quantity of copper was sufficient to produce 1.5 million rounds of ammunition for the U.S. Army.
Fusselman said the copper’s salvage value was about $45,000. The copper pieces were scratched as they were moved to and inside the salvage yard, rendering them unfit for ammunition. The Lake City plant did not seek return of its copper, which has been melted down.
According to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday, "the diversion of the bullet cups interfered with and obstructed the ability of the United States to prepare for and carry on war activities."
Fusselman said he promises to keep his eyes open, but there is no law requiring dealers to ask for identification of people who come to them selling scrap metal.
The skyrocketing price of copper - which has more than doubled in the past three years - has encouraged thieves to become more aggressive in stripping copper wiring or plumbing from empty houses and agricultural irrigation systems.
"We watch for things that are unusual. We take reports from authorities over the phone, and we catch people every so often," he said. "But the fact is, if they take copper wiring out in the country and burn it" to remove insulation, "there isn’t going to be any way to identify it."