A bundle of copper ingots stolen from the Asarco mine was displayed during an Arizona Department of Public Safety press conference in November. Some 240 stolen plates are still missing. On Tuesday officials said  18 people are charged in a multi-million dollar copper theft ring involving Asarco employees.


Search warrants were served Tuesday on a Tucson recycling company with three locations in Southern Arizona as part of an investigation into large-scale copper theft.

Family-owned Recyco Inc., which has two Tucson locations and also owns Mariposa Recycling in Nogales, Ariz., had properties searched as part of an investigation into the theft of millions of dollars worth of copper from the Asarco mine in Hayden, according to a news release from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Recyco General Manager Vanessa Gallego said on Wednesday, "We're not sure about the situation, so I can't comment."

Originally, DPS investigators thought the copper thefts began in April 2012 and totaled about $1.5 million. But they now believe the thefts started in 2006 and could add up to more than $10 million, according to the news release. In Tuesday's searches, investigators were hoping to turn up records of earlier transactions.

The initial investigation began in September 2012 when security personnel at the Asarco mine in Hayden, about 70 miles northeast of Tucson, contacted DPS about large-scale copper theft at their facility. Mine security tracked flatbed trucks loaded with copper plates to a ranch on state trust land in Marana.

DPS investigators conducted a traffic stop of a commercial truck that had departed the ranch and found it loaded with 48 copper ingots - or plates - of unrefined copper. Each measured 4 feet square and weighed between 820 and 880 pounds. They were valued at $3,488 apiece.

The truck was headed to a Los Angeles seaport for shipment to Hong Kong, DPS officials said at a press conference in November.

A search of the ranch, in the 6300 block of West Tangerine Road west of Twin Peaks Road, turned up 54 more stolen plates. Total copper recovered in the Tucson area was valued at more than $300,000.

DPS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigators found another 359 stolen plates in six containers at the seaport. Their total value: $1.25 million.

Customs officers stopped three of the containers from leaving the seaport a day before their scheduled departure and ordered the return of three others on ships that had already departed. However, 240 stolen plates remain missing.

The investigation is ongoing.

On StarNet: If you want to know more about crime in Tucson, check out the StarNet Police Beat blog at azstarnet.com/policebeat

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.