As thefts of metal rise, two charged
Bill would toughen rules for scrap dealers
Since the economic downturn began a few years ago, some area thieves have targeted publicly owned metal objects - from manhole covers to statuary - to be sold to metal scrappers for quick dollars.
Most of these thefts go unsolved, but earlier this month, Revere police announced that they had cracked a ring that they say was responsible for the theft of at least 80 stolen sewer grates in Revere this fall. Police are also investigating if the ring also took part in thefts of street coverings in Saugus, Winthrop, Lynn, and Swampscott.
Over the last few years in Revere, thieves have targeted everything from sewer grates and manhole covers to guardrails and even tidal gates. In the spring, thieves pried a 60-pound bronze statue of a girl reading a book from a marble base in front of the Revere Public Library.
The arrests come at a time when legislators are considering proposed laws that would implement tough new standards for scrap dealers. On Nov. 15, the House of Representatives passed a bill that called for the state to officially regulate such dealers.
The bill, endorsed by state Representative Ted Speliotis, a Danvers Democrat, and Attorney General Martha Coakley, calls for dealers to keep comprehensive records of all transactions, including requiring all sellers to provide a photo ID, and proof of ownership of the material. In addition, the bill would make it illegal for residents to sell non-household items such as sewer grates or guardrails. The bill also calls for a 24-hour hold on some items.
“The growth of abandoned properties and the skyrocketing value of metals have undermined public safety in our communities,’’ Coakley said in a statement earlier this month. “Lack of proper registration and oversight has made it too easy for thieves to strip out the copper and other metals, realizing profits from the vandalization of property and even the desecration of memorials.’’
Speliotis said the rash of copper thefts from homes and the theft of public memorials north of Boston prompted him to get involved in the regulation effort. Last year, a bronze plaque was ripped from the Danvers Rotary Pavilion and an urn was stolen from the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers.
“Something should be done. It makes common sense that you cannot allow someone to rob something and get rid of it in a matter of minutes and have no consequences,’’ said Speliotis.
On Nov. 10, Revere police arrested two Winthrop men, Michael Feudo and Eric Monahan, after they were placed under surveillance and found in a truck with three sewer grates - two from Revere and one from Lynn. According to the police report, Feudo admitted under questioning “to being involved with the larceny of 80 stolen sewer grates in Revere.’’
Feudo and Monahan were charged with larceny over $250 and possession of burglar’s tools. The two men will be arraigned Dec. 9 in Chelsea District Court, and could face prison sentences of up to 15 years if convicted on both charges.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said thefts of metal occur frequently in Boston, Chelsea, and Revere.
“Just about anything that can be stolen, torn out of a wall, or pried out of the ground will be sold to a metal scrap dealer,’’ said Wark. “Certainly, there is an unscrupulous market for any items that can be melted down and sold.’’
Thieves can get from $10 to $40 apiece for grates, according to police.
The arrests came days after a regional task force representing law enforcement officials from Revere, Winthrop, Malden, Saugus, and Lynn met to discuss the jump in area sewer grate thefts. In Malden, more than 20 were stolen in October; in Lynn, 15 were taken during that month. In Revere, police estimate that the cost to replace the stolen sewer grates will be approximately $22,500.
Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino said he was relieved at news of the arrests but called for the state to enact a tough law regulating scrap metal dealers. Currently, the state leaves it to local cities and towns to enact ordinances to regulate the scrap dealers.
In Everett, a local ordinance is on the books that already requires scrap dealers to keep a record of every purchase, including a copy of a photo ID of the seller. It also requires scrap dealers to not resell purchased scrap for at least one week from the date of purchase.
“Quite honestly, it has never been enforced,’’ said Colin Kelly, a spokesman for Schnitzer Steel Industries, the largest metal recycler in New England and one that has a metal yard in Everett. Kelly said he supported state regulation of scrap dealers.
He said, too, that Schnitzer follows the local ordinance, except for the requirement of keeping newly purchased scrap for a week. “We wouldn’t be able to comply with that regulation,’’ he said. “It would shut down a plant that employs 130 people.’’
Everett Police Chief Steven A. Mazzie acknowledged that his department has not regularly enforced the ordinance.
“It is a tough area to enforce,’’ said Mazzie, who said metal in the city was hard to track. “It’s hard to dedicate the resources you really need for it, not when you have competing calls for service and other problems you’re working on.’’
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.