Law on copper thefts tightened

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 12:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt was traveling throughout the state Wednesday to sign legislation that helps police track people who plunder copper and aluminum and sell to it scrap metal dealers.

Under the new law, dealers will need to get a copy of photo identification for people who are not regular business customers but are selling more than $50 worth of copper, brass, bronze or aluminum. They would need to keep those records for two years in case law enforcement wants to inspect them.

For some purchases of more than $500, scrap metal dealers would have to pay with a check or some other method that can be traced.

The new law also boosts the fine for dealers who don’t keep the proper paperwork. Currently the fine ranges from $25 to $500. Under the new law, dealers could be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Metal theft has become a growing problem as prices for the raw materials have risen.

Thieves have taken metal from vacant houses, businesses, construction sites, churches and even graveyards. In April, for example, several hundred suburban Kansas City telephone customers lost power after thieves cut a phone line to steal $10 worth of copper. Earlier this month in Jefferson City, about $100,000 worth of copper was taken from a college dormitory construction project.

Blunt said in a written statement that the thievery has hit government building projects and home construction.

“These thieves are literally tearing apart people’s homes, farms and businesses and selling off the pieces,” he said.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, makes it a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison to steal wire, electrical transformers or any pipe used for conducting electricity or transporting natural gas or other fuels.

The dealers will be barred from accepting certain types of materials without the owner’s written consent. For example, dealers could be fined up to a $1,000 for accepting a metal beer keg without the brewer’s permission.

There will be a $500 fine for dealers who accept manhole covers, bleachers, guard rails, signs, traffic lights or cemetery materials without written permission from the utility, governmental entity or cemetery.

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