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Arizona Department of Public Safety Seizes Over $1 Million Dollars in Stolen Raw Copper Destined For China

Traffic stop leads to discovery of black market operation involving illegal shipments

Monday, November 12, 2012 -

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On Sept. 27, 2012 the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Southern Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit conducted a criminal investigation regarding copper theft from the ASARCO Mining Corporation in Hayden, Ariz. A commercial vehicle traffic stop was conducted on Interstate 10 near Milepost 200 where approximately 49 copper ingots were discovered in the trailer of the commercial vehicle. Copper ingots are large copper plates. Each plate measures four feet in width, four feet in length, two inches in thickness and weigh approximately 880 pounds.

With the information obtained from the traffic stop and with the assistance of the Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, a search warrant was executed at a residence located at 6320 W. Tangerine Road in Marana, Ariz. During the execution of the warrant, 56 copper ingots were discovered. This lead to the seizure of three truck tractors, three semi-trailers, one fork lift and two hand carts. The total value of the seized copper was $300,000 dollars.

Further investigation by DPS, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport resulted in the seizure 359 stolen copper ingots, each worth $3,488 for an estimated total domestic value of $1.25 million. CBP officers located and retrieved six containers with suspected stolen copper items beginning on Oct. 2 through Nov. 6. They halted three of the containers from the leaving the seaport a day before their scheduled departure and ordered the return of three additional containers which had already departed the port.

DPS provided blueprints, pictures and details of the copper ingots that included dimensions, weight and mineral composition, along with a belief that the ingots would be smuggled out of the country through a seaport.

As a result of the information from these counterparts, CBP officers initially identified three containers, destined for Hong Kong and scheduled to depart the next day. Each contained 59 and 60 stolen copper ingots. All had a Shipper’s Export Declaration listing the commodity as “Metal Scrap (Copper Alloy Waste and Scrap) from the same exporter.

The CBP found three more containers associated with the seized shipments, all manifested as “metal scrap.” These were exported on two separate ocean cargo carriers, destined for China, which CBP ordered returned to the LA seaport for inspection.

In the two containers on the first vessel returned, CBP officers discovered a total of 120 stolen copper ingots, in the last container on the second vessel returned, were another 60, for a total of another 180. It should be noted that the ingots are basically unrefined copper that still has traces of gold and silver.


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The Arizona Department of Public Safety is a state-level law enforcement agency whose mission is to protect human life and property by enforcing state laws, deterring criminal activity and providing vital support to the State of Arizona and its citizens.