New Jersey accuses scrap dealers of complicity with drug users stealing recyclable metals

N.J. State Capitol dome in Trenton (AP, file)

N.J. State Capitol dome in Trenton (AP, file)

A state watchdog agency in New Jersey said corrupt pawn shops, secondhand goods stores, and scrap yards are taking advantage of the opioid epidemic to maximize their profits.

State Commission of Investigation spokeswoman Kathy Riley said those operators regularly accepted metal and other merchandise from drug users who stole those items from cellphone towers and utility substations to get money for their drug habit.

“It was obvious that these individuals were not employees of these utilities, but yet they would return to the same scrapyard maybe three times a day, cars loaded down with so much metal that they were dragging on the ground. And this stuff was readily bought and accepted by these places,” said Riley.

In some cases, Riley said the corrupt operators directed customers who were drug users to steal in-demand items that could be resold at a profit.

She said the thefts included the plundering of copper wiring and heavy-duty backup batteries from cellphone towers, the removal of wire from utility substations, and aluminum street lamps from highways. “These are things that put all residents in jeopardy because the impact of these thefts is widespread undermining things like cellphone service during outages, compromising the power grid, and contributing to delays on commuter rail lines,” said Riley.

The Commission recommends giving the State Police the authority to oversee the licensing of scrap yards and secondhand stores and requiring those businesses to upload detailed sales transactions to an online database accessible by law enforcement.

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