Copper thieves plague churches

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January 19, 2007

EDGEFIELD CTY, S.C.---The hottest new thing to steal? Copper.

And where thieves are getting it is even more unlikely.

Eight churches in Edgefield County are being left in the cold this week, all for a piece that's worth up to $1.50 a pound.

It's no gold or silver...but for thieves, it's good enough.

Copper thieves are gaining more notoriety as the demand for the illustrious metal grows in the global trade market.

Now thieves are getting more and more creative to get their hands on the goods.

Eight churches have been hit with a total of $35,000 in damages, and they all have one thing in common: their air conditioners have been stripped of their essential component, the copper tube.

"We believe the person responsible has some knowledge of heating and air and how they work," said recycling manager David Whitehead. "It's awful, especially in churches."

So if you're wondering by now just much copper these thieves could possibly get away with...scrap metal experts say it's a whopping $20

"It's terrible," David said. "We're doing everything we can. It's a nationwide epidemic."

Even though the cashiers at CMC-Lexington keep photographs and records of every copper exchange, he says it's hard to distinguish who's legit and who isn't.

"This is the time of the year we see A/C units tore down and sell the parts for it," David said.

And the thief isn't discreet, possibly because all of his targets so far are rural churches.

At one church in North Augusta, for example, the fence has been ripped down and the A/Cs stripped from the inside out

"We're scratching our heads to try to stop it, because the same people stealing from churches are stealing from us too," David said.

If you've become a victim of this crime, David suggests you immediately call all of the local recycling centers so they can start looking back through their records.

And of course call the police.

With all those records, it should be easier to track down the crooks, but it isn't...that's because experts say often times the copper is stripped and then becomes untraceable metal.