KHQ.COM - The thieves stealing copper, brass and batteries keep jacking these commodities because recyclers keep buying the hot loot. The KHQ Crime Trackers set up a sting - that started last spring - to see which recyclers are following the letter of the law, to ensure they're not buying stolen metal.
Since the beginning of our investigation, Washington politicians actually changed some laws to make them more relaxed. However, buying something like a graveyard urn, without the proper documentation, is still illegal.
We sent KHQ I.T. Manger Jeremy Halverson to Universal Recycling in Otis Orchards back in June to see if they'd buy a chunk of bright and shiny wire and a funeral vase, which holds flowers on gravestones. Law requires sellers have a commercial license or proof of purchase to sell the vase, which is considered commercial metal.
Universal Recycling bought all of Jeremy's metal with no questions asked. When Crime Tracker Kalae Chock confronted the workers about the buy, they told her they didn't know what a funeral vase looked like.
The same thing happened at the Crime Trackers' second stop at United Recycling on East Trent. The young worker bought everything off of KHQ's second seller, Producer Josh Pflug. When Kalae asked him if he was aware of a law that required he ask for documentation in order to buy the vase, he said he'd never heard of one.
Dickson Recycling was the first recycling center to identify the vase and told Pflug they wouldn't buy it. When Kalae went inside to talk to the people at Dickson, they told her they knew they couldn't buy the vase without a license or proof of purchase.
Last week, the Crime Trackers checked back in with United and Universal to see if they'd learned their lesson from the first sting in June. Neither shop bought and sent our seller away without a deal. When we confronted the owner at United about his choice to turn our seller away, he wouldn't talk.
However, Universal Owner Lisa Hooper told us our first sting was a learning lesson for the workers at her recycling center. She says she knows now what a funeral vase looks like and is doing all she can to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
In addition to identifying stolen property, recyclers are also required by law to ask for a list of documentation from their seller. They must get a copy of the seller's identification, get a description of their vehicle and receive signed consent that the goods are not stolen.
In June, when the Crime Trackers conducted their sting, law required recycling centers issue a check, 10 days after the transaction, for any sale worth more than $30. Our sting in June showed not all recyclers were following those requirements. The Crime Trackers walked away with $57 cash after one stop. Since June, law has changed.
Recyclers can now give $30 cash and issue a check for the remaining amount at the time of the sale. Action Recyler Glenn Ahlborn told the Crime Trackers the new law makes it easier for thieves to get away with selling stolen goods and making quick cash. Law enforcement and recyclers are also trying to keep from buying stolen property by spreading the word through an email chain.
Once a theft is reported, an email goes out, and each recycler can then be on the lookout for the stolen loot. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office has also issued a do not buy list with the names of offenders who recyclers should turn away.
Each effort helps, but with the amount of stolen metal being reported everyday, it's clear that someone is making these thefts profitable.