A major Bay Area recycler who violated state laws designed to stem the growing tide of copper and other metal thefts has agreed to pay a $4.1 million fine, prosecutors announced Friday.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark A. Peterson announced that Sims Group USA Corporation also known as Sims Metal Management and Sims Metal will pay the fine as part of a settlement of a civil prosecution brought by their respective offices.
“Metal theft threatens the well-being of our infrastructure and costs the community dearly.” Gascón said in a release. “My office is committed to utilizing all tools necessary to attack the marketplace of stolen metal.”
The two DAs have been working together to crack down on thieves and companies that buy and process stolen metals.
“California is facing an epidemic of metal theft,” Peterson said. “The economic cost of metal theft cannot be calculated. It is not enough to go after the metal thieves alone. Recycling companies must be required to act responsibly because they can deter metal theft.”
In recent years, California has seen an increase in metal theft from local governments, construction sites, public transit, utilities and foreclosed homes.
In an effort to shut down the market for stolen metal, California has passed laws designed to prevent, deter and detect metal theft by imposing requirements on companies that purchase scrap metal.
For example, scrap metal dealers must take steps to determine that the material they are purchasing was not stolen, and they must photograph, fingerprint, and record the identification of individuals selling certain types of scrap metal.
Sims owns and operates eight metal recycling facilities in Northern California. According to the District Attorneys’ complaint, Sims consistently violated these anti-metal theft laws. During the investigation of Sims, undercover officers in San Francisco and Contra Costa County offered to sell the company utility wire, communication wire, and public utility fixtures.
The company’s employees purchased the clearly “stolen” material, and failed to record the required information about the sellers, prosecutors said.
A lengthy review of the company’s records, prosecutors said, revealed that these failures were just the tip of the iceberg.
For many years, Sims violated the anti-metal theft laws by, for example, not holding payments for the required three days or buying scrap metal without requiring identification or other information from the sellers.
Prosecutors said that under the settlement, Sims must pay $4.1 million in civil penalties and costs. The company will also be bound by a permanent injunction that insures good business practices and prohibits future violations of the law.
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