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CBP Intercepts 144 Tons of Stolen Copper Headed to Asia

Release Date: 
November 13, 2012

Los Angeles - U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Los Angeles/Long Beach (LA/LB) seaport in collaboration with the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Team (LA BEST) and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) recovered and seized 359 stolen copper ingots, each worth $3,488 for an estimated total domestic value of $1.25 million.

CBP officers located and retrieved six containers with suspected stolen copper items beginning on October 2 through November 6. They halted three of the containers from leaving the seaport a day before their scheduled departure and ordered the return of three additional containers which had already departed the port.

CBP seized stolen copper ingots valued at $1.2 million.

CBP seized stolen copper ingots valued at $1.2 million.

Arizona DPS provided blueprints, pictures and details of the copper ingots that included dimensions, weight and mineral composition, along with their belief that the ingots would be smuggled out of the country through a seaport. Their ongoing investigation of the copper theft from a mining facility in Hayden, Ariz. began September 27. As a result of a commercial vehicle traffic stop and search warrant on a residence, Arizona DPS seized copper in excess of $300 thousand dollars, three truck tractors, three semi-trailers, one fork lift and two handcarts.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers assigned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport not only prevented the importation of dangerous products into the country, but also had an important role in stopping stolen cargo from being exported out of the port. These seizures demonstrate the effectiveness of CBP's cargo security activities, and of the strong partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement partners," stated Todd C. Owen, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles.

"This is an extremely dynamic and complicated criminal case. Our detectives did a terrific job from the outset tracking this theft from its inception in Southern Arizona following the money all the way to the Port of Los Angeles. At that point our partners at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided terrific assistance in determining the international level of criminal activity involved in this large scale operation involving stolen copper. We in Arizona have always had a very good working relationship with local and federal partners. It's great to see this same level of cooperation with our federal law enforcement partners across state lines," said Robert Halliday, Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

CBP prevented stolen copper ingots from being exported out of the port.

CBP prevented stolen copper ingots from being exported out of the port.

Copper ingots are unrefined copper that still have traces of gold and silver. Each of these ingots seized are almost three and a half feet long, three feet wide, two inches thick, and weigh 806 pounds, totaling about 144 tons. They are covered with a black powder-like substance, camouflaging their true color.

As a result of the information received from these counterparts, CBP officers initially identified three containers, destined to Hong Kong and scheduled to depart the next day. Each contained 60 stolen copper ingots totaling 180. All had a Shipper's Export Declaration listing the commodity as "Metal Scrap (Copper Alloy Waste and Scrap)" from the same exporter.

Further research by CBP officers found three more containers associated with the seized shipments, manifested as "metal scrap." These were exported on two separate ocean cargo carriers, destined to China, which CBP ordered returned to the LA/LB seaport for inspection.

In the two containers on the first vessel returned, CBP officers discovered a total of 119 stolen copper ingots; in the last container on the second vessel returned were another 60, for a total of another 179.

Ultimately, these stolen copper ingots will be returned to their rightful owners.

Last modified: 
February 9, 2017