Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 4, 2013

Bill to reduce metal thefts is pushed

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NIAGARA FALLS — Metal thieves may find themselves in front of a federal judge instead of local or state justices soon.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stood Thursday with business owners, law enforcement officials and religious leaders in front of St. John de LaSalle Roman Catholic Church — which has been victimized three times by metal thieves — to announce that he will introduce legislation to crack down on the bandits and the scrap yards that profit off their booty.

“As a result of the metal theft crimes Niagara homes, businesses, infrastructure, even religious institutions like our churches, have suffered damages,” Schumer said. “The safety of everyone who lives in the homes and works in the businesses has been in danger.”

The Metal Theft Prevention Act includes provisions that would require documentation of the sellers’ right to scrap the metal, require scrap yards to keep records of the people who turn in the metal, limit scrap yards to a $100 cash return with any amount above that being paid by check and would make stealing metal from critical infrastructure a federal crime.

“I’m going to forge an ironclad partnership with federal and local law enforcement to put the metal thieves behind bars, once and for all,” Schumer said.

Schumer will introduce the bill with his cosponsor, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Both Schumer and Klobuchar sit on that committee.

Schumer said the bill would not hurt honest scrap metal yards, but will target those that knowingly deal with thieves.

“Most of our metal scrap dealers here in Western New York are honest and honorable,” Schumer said. “But all you need is a few bad ones and the crooks know to bring it to them and they’ll give you cash, no questions asked.”

At one point, Schumer held up a copper pipe and a $100 bill, saying that thieves will no longer be able to trade one for the other.

“We’re going to work so that the last metal, the only metal, a metal thief can feel are the bars that he puts his hands around as he spends his time in jail,” Schumer said.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said thieves often put people in danger by recklessly stealing metal that serves an important safety purpose, such as gas lines or manhole covers.

“For a small amount of financial gain these people are putting very, very large values at risk,” Dyster said.

Metal thieves also devalue neighborhoods and cities through their acts, not just the individual properties that they target, Dyster said.

“When you go and pull the copper out of one of those vacant building that still has the potential for renovation, you may have now doomed that house,” Dyster said. “It will never again be a home for a family.”

And thieves can cause issues for businesses looking to improve communities through renovations.

Metal thieves broke into the Fallside Hotel - which is being renovated by the Merani Hotel Group - and caused $20,000 worth of damage, ripping copper pipes through drywall. Similar stories have been told throughout Niagara County.

Faisal Merani, the president of the company, said the repairs will not stop the company from moving forward with the project, but dealing with the issues caused by thieves is discouraging for people looking to invest.

“It’s not going to stop us,” Merani said. “At the end of the day, we want to get that property open as soon as possible.”

Merani sees the measure as an effective tool to prevent metal theft.

“For any business margins are small,” Merani said. “It was $20,000 now and it could be another $20,000 tonight if someone breaks in. Anything we can do to help curb that, and this seems like a pretty inexpensive and easy way to do that.”