A copper-theft ring that allegedly involved ASARCO employees has been broken up, according to Attorney General Tom Horne.
According to a news release, the multimillion-dollar black market operation relied on inside help from now-fired employees of the Arizona copper producer.
18 people are facing 10 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.
"This is a stunning example of theft on a massive scale," Horne said in the release. "Copper production is a signature component of our state's economy. For these defendants to abuse their positions at a mining producer and allow this valuable resource to be stolen and re-sold on the black market is unconscionable."
The Department of Public Safety began investigating the case in September, after nearly $180,000 worth of stolen raw copper ingots were found on a semi-truck that had been pulled over in a traffic stop.
According to the release, DPS investigators determined that several people employed at ASARCO in Hayden, AZ, had allegedly used their positions to facilitate the theft of semi-truck loads of raw copper.
The release said the loads of stolen copper were driven to and sold to recyclers in Arizona and California. From there, the copper, sometimes blackened to disguise it as scrap metal, was resold to Chinese importers, the release said.
Tucson News Now's Sonu Wasu will have more on this story on KOLD News 13 at Noon. She can be followed on Twitter at @SonuWasu.
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