EAST CLEVELAND- The FOX 8 I-Team has obtained video of thieves carrying out a crime that happens more often than you might think, putting more money in the pockets of crooks than you may have realized. And this investigation comes with a new spotlight on this kind of crime following a massive house explosion.
Last Sunday, a house exploded in East Cleveland shortly after, police say, scrappers had been in the home looking to steal metal. Now, the FOX 8 I-Team has found the market for stolen metal much greater than you may have ever realized.
We found the Cuyahoga County Environmental Crimes Task Force investigating two recent break-ins at a big scrapyard off East 55, JBI Scrap Processors. On one night, 4 thieves can be seen on video teaming up to steal high-end copper and batteries and aluminum. A few nights later, 8 thieves hit the same place.
Bianca Immormino helps run JBI. She told the I-Team, "It looks like junk, but when you look at the retail value and the stock market value, you realize this stuff is worth a lot of money."
JBI has been hit time and again despite cameras, motions sensors and even an electric fence. Video shows, in the most recent case, one thief got into the office by squeezing through a tiny opening in a garage door.
Task Force Sgt. Andy Ezzo says from 2014-2016, Ohio led the nation in metal thefts. And he says it’s not uncommon for scrap thieves to work in teams and risk their lives.
While a woman died in the East Cleveland case, Sgt. Ezzo says others have died in scrapping cases before.
Ezzo explained why some thieves get so desperate. He added, "In 2018, the market for scrap, the cost, has gone up, so they're getting a lot more money for scrap than they were, let's say, a year ago."
Often, thieves will even steal from one scrapyard and sell that at another scrapyard.
Last year, 14 people were indicted for taking part in a crime ring tied to this. But the cases can be tough to prosecute, and often, judges don't hand out stiff sentences for this kind of crime.
Back at JBI, the owner is looking into adding even more security measures.
Bianca Immormino added, "There's been some nights when the phone is ringing off the hook because the sensors are getting tripped. the alarm is going off." Constant concern.
In the latest case, investigators with the Task Force have identified one suspect, and they are working on identifying the others.