Crime Network Behind Massive Copper Heists, Cops Say

Copper Theft On The Rise

Police in at least three states are becoming alarmed that a sophisticated ring of thieves is pulling off spectacular large-scale heists from warehouses and somehow are quickly getting the goods out of the country.

The primary target of the thieves is copper, massive amounts of copper, at a time when the price of the metal is rising.

"It's the new gold rush," said Lt. James Perry of the Carrollton, Ga., Police Department which is investigating one of the heists.

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But the gang is also believed to have swiped a warehouse full of high end electronics, and authorities told ABC News they feel certain the group is behind even more crimes, as they have just recently begun connecting all the dots.

"Oh yeah, I'm sure they've done more," Sgt. Bill Shaw of the Largo Police Department, which is also probing a huge copper theft, told ABC News.

The robberies, seemingly pulled straight from Hollywood, span from Texas to Florida, according to police, and the known haul so far totals close to $2 million.

"They appear to be a highly sophisticated ring," Shaw said.

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Shaw in fact made an ABC News reporter calling him for an interview about the gang prove his identity, fearing the reporter was in fact a member of the crime ring trying to gather intelligence on the investigation.

The gang's activities caught the attention of federal investigators as a result of ABC News' questions and the FBI has joined the hunt.

"I think you guys rattled their chains," Perry said, referring to the feds.

John Horn at the U.S. Attorney General's Office in Atlanta, said their office as well as the FBI are now looking into the Carrollton case.

"We are evaluating this theft and working with the Carrollton Police Department as well as the FBI to look at the case," Horn said in a written statement to ABC News.

One of the Copper Heists Was Worth $500,000

What makes the thefts so remarkable is the amount of copper stolen at any one time. The Carrollton heist involved 132,000 pounds of copper rods valued at $500,000.

"Look at one of these coils of copper rod," said Gary Leftwich, a spokesman for Southwire Corp., where the theft occurred.

"It is 4 ½ feet tall by 6 feet in diameter and one truck load has 18 of these things. I can't figure out how you disguise it as scrap. Even if you cut it up, it would take you forever. That leads me to think these guys had a place for it to go before they ever took it."

Brian Jacobs, a spokesman for the industry's national Coalition Against Copper Theft, suspects Southwire's copper is now in India or China.

The trail left behind by the thieves begins in a Miami.

"We have one load of high end electronics stolen in Miami. That was the first one as far as we can tell," Perry said. "We've been able to tie thefts together because of copper, but these suspects are probably stealing other stuff also."

Southwire was hit on April 29 and the operation was a template for how the group works.

According to Perry, Southwire brokered the shipping of the materials to Associated Trucking, which posted the job onto a trucking Website. Perry said Associated Trucking was contacted by a group of men claiming to be from LaRolle Trucking, a legitimate company based out of Miami.

"A person said I have three trucks. I can handle those loads for you and they sent in counterfeit documents posing as a legitimate company," Perry said.

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