Eighteen people are charged in a multi-million dollar copper theft ring involving Asarco employees.
Those indicted face criminal counts including illegally conducting an enterprise, conspiracy, money laundering, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and theft involving nearly $10 million in stolen raw copper from Asarco, LLC, according to a news release.
“This is a stunning example of theft on a massive scale,” Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a news release.
The initial investigation began in September 2012 when security at the Asarco mine in Hayden, about 70 miles northeast of Tucson, contacted DPS about large-scale copper theft. Mine security tracked flatbed trucks loaded with copper plates to a ranch on state trust land in Marana.
DPS investigators stopped a commercial truck and found it loaded with 48 ingots — or plates — of unrefined copper. Each ingot measured 4 feet square and weighed more than 800 pounds. They were each valued at about $3,500.
Asarco employees facilitated the thefts, selling the copper to heavy metal recyclers in Arizona and California at a fraction of the price. The recyclers would then resell it to Chinese importers, investigators say.
Defendants working at one of the recyclers even attempted to deceive U.S. Customs inspectors by blackening the raw copper to disguise it as scrap, officials said.