U.S. Customs intercepts $1.2M of stolen copper headed to Asia

144 tons of unrefined copper was seized; some was about to ship to Hong Kong and the rest was already on its way to China.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 359 stolen copper ingots, weighing a total of 144 tons and valued at $1.2 million, from six containers at or recently departed from the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport. (Photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 359 stolen copper ingots, weighing a total of 144 tons and valued at $1.2 million, from six containers at or recently departed from the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport. (Photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently announced that it had seized and recovered approximately $1.25-million worth of stolen copper from containers destined for Asia, between October 2 and November 6. Border protection officers at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport collaborated with the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Team and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) to recover 359 copper ingots (pictured below). Each ingot is about 3 feet wide and 2 inches thick, weighing 806 pounds. The total haul recovered weighs in at 144 tons.

“Copper ingots are unrefined copper that still have traces of gold and silver,” the CBP explained in its announcement of the recovery. Those seized in this operation “are covered with a black powder-like substance, camouflaging their true color.” The CBP further stated that its “officers located and retrieved six containers with suspected stolen copper items,” in the October 2-November 6 time frame. “They halted three of the containers from leaving the seaport a day before their scheduled departure and ordered the return of three additional containers which had already departed the port.”

In the release, the CBP explained that the Arizona DPS provided blueprints, pictures and details of the copper ingots that included dimensions, weight and mineral composition, along with their belief that the ingots would be smuggled out of the country through a seaport. The Arizona DPS’s investigation began with a theft of copper from a mining facility in Hayden, AZ on September 27. A commercial vehicle traffic stop coupled with a search warrant for a residence turned up in excess of $300,000, three truck tractors, three semi-trailers, a forklift and two handcarts.

With this information in hand, CBP officers identified three containers destined for Hong Kong and scheduled to depart within a day. Each of the three containers held 60 stolen ingots, and all had a shipper’s export declaration that listed the commodity as “metal scrap (copper alloy waste and scrap),” all from the same exporter, the CBP said.

More research on the part of CBP officers uncovered three more containers that were associated with these seized shipments. The three containers had already been exported on two separate cargo carriers destined for China. CBP ordered those carriers returned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport for inspection.

When the first of those vessels returned, officers found a total of 119 copper ingots between the two suspect containers. When the second vessel returned, the inspected container had 60 ingots.

Todd C. Owen, director of CBP field operations in Los Angeles, said, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers assigned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport not only prevented the importation of dangerous products into the country, but also had an important role in stopping stolen cargo from being exported out of port.”

Arizona DPS director Robert Halliday commented, “This is an extremely dynamic and complicated criminal case. Our detectives did a terrific job from the outset tracking this theft from its inception in Southern Arizona following the money all the way to the Port of Los Angeles. At this point our partners at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided terrific assistance in determining the international level of criminal activity involved in this large-scale operation involving stolen copper.” He also commended the working relationship among local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

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