A new twist on copper theft

Copper shoplifting is on the rise at home improvement stores across the country, but in the Fort Meyers, Fla., area, thieves may have come up with a novel way to steal the valuable metal. According to a story in the Fort Myers News Press, two men have been arrested for repeatedly shoplifting items from a Lowe’s store in Cape Coral, Fla., returning the items for store credit and then purchasing copper tubing, which they would sell to a recycling yard.

Jason Sawicki, 29, and Eugene Weisensee, 25, both of Cape Coral, were arrested Aug. 1 by the Lee County Metal Theft Task Force, which had targeted both individuals plus the scrap shop, Allied Recycling, with which they had been doing business. Police said the pair had, on at least 14 occasions, sold copper tubes they purchased with funds gained through from shoplifting refunds.

Police were initially tipped off to the suspects after they sold more than 100 new, 10-in. copper tubes to the scrap shop. Officers followed Weisensee into the Cape Coral Lowe's store and watched as he allegedly shoplifted an outlet tester and handed it off to Sawicki in the parking lot.

Sawicki then walked in, setting off the anti-theft alarm sensors, and returned the item for $9.39 in cash, according to the newspaper story.

When purchasing scrap metal, recycling shops are required to get the seller's name, thumbprint, signature, photo and license plate number, but this has proven to be little deterrent to many thieves, particularly drug addicts, according to one scrap metal operator interviewed for the story.