CLEVELAND -- We now know that illegal scrapping was the cause of the home explosion in East Cleveland on June 10th, but just how big of a problem is it?
Sgt. Andrew Ezzo is on the environmental crimes task force with the Cleveland Police. “It’s a never-ending story," he said. "It’s a battle that’s going to be tough to win.”
The battle is against thieves looting places for metal and selling it to scrap yards and it’s an uphill one. “It’s a huge problem, said Sgt. Ezzo. "The state of Ohio has led the nation in scrap theft since 2014.”
New legislation and new systems have helped to bring the numbers down, but as prices for scrap goes up, so do the crimes. Perhaps no one knows that more than JBI Scrap Processors in Cleveland, which has been the victim of scrap theft so often, the owners have lost count. In fact, thieves have stolen from the business twice in the last week.
Joe Immormino's family has owned JBI for more than 30 years. He said the theft problem has never been so bad.
"They're like rats," Immormino said of scrap thieves. "They just keep coming back. Unfortunately, it's sad. Because we -- all these guys [his employees] work so hard."
“He has a really nice fence," said Sgt. Ezzo. "He has an electrical fence on top, he has video cameras all over the place, but they still figure a way to get in."
Video surveillance from the June 8th incident shows 4 men breaking in and taking keys to company vehicles to transport things to the fence line to throw the stuff over. They took copper, radiators, batteries, aluminum in a theft that lasted more than 30 minutes, then took off. Police have identified one of the suspects from the video but are working on gathering more information to ID the other 3.
Immormino says in one night, the thieves stole 3,000 pounds of scrap metal, valued at $9,000.
WATCH | See the surveillance video below
Several days later, 8 people broke in and stole from JBI yet again. Sgt. Ezzo says to crack down on the illegal scrapping, they need to crack down on where the money changes hands. Ohio has created new regulations since 2013 to make scrap yards register with Ohio Homeland Security and upload every transaction to a database. They’ve also started a "do not buy" list for people with previous theft convictions.
Sgt. Ezzo’s office has made indictments and they continue to monitor scrap yards, but he says one of the biggest problems is people not reporting it. “It’s the hardest thing for us to find. Even the good scrap yards that call us and let us know that they’re taking in stolen property, again it’s the hardest thing for us to find is the victim,” Sgt. Ezzo said.
A grand jury indicted the owners of Tyroler Scrap Metals and West Side Metals in Cleveland last fall on felony charges of receiving stolen property and grand theft. According to the indictment, the companies are accused of knowingly receiving stolen scrap metal. The trial is set for July.
MORE | Lynna Lai picks up our coverage of the story in the player below: