Dealer doubts law will put a dent in metal thefts

Scrap metal theft is not a new problem, according to Mark Masser, owner of Masser Metals and a third-generation dealer.

"It has always gone on," Masser said.

And he does not believe that restrictions on sales proposed by Columbus City Council are going to put much of a dent in the problem.

"The industry can police itself," commented Masser, who is also a Bexley City Councilman.

Masser’s lot was one visited by Columbus Councilman Andrew Ginther as he drafted the ordinance to deter the sale of stolen metal.

Like many dealers, Masser pointed out the burden that "tag and hold" provisions would put on businesses.

"There’s not enough space," Masser pointed at his Lamb Avenue lot. "Where are you going to put it?"

Most of the items that come in, from aluminum siding to electrical wires, would be unidentifiable for police or owners, he said. And dealers need to sell their materials quickly in a volatile market.

A spike in metal prices has fueled increased thefts. But some prices, such as stainless steel, are dropping, he noted.

Masser doesn’t expect that the ordinance, if passed, will have much of an effect on his high-volume operation. The revised law focuses on retail sales and exempts commercial and industrial accounts. The retail trade accounts for less than 20 percent of his business.

And he is willing to comply with the record-keeping and reporting to police mandated in the law.

He already requires a photo ID and a driver’s license number for sales, and he forwards receipts with the name and address of the customer to law enforcement.

He anticipates that requirements such as fingerprinting will fall hardest on what he refers to as the "peddlers" who deal more with a walk-up trade where stolen items are more likely to surface.

Masser himself has been the victim of theft. Recently, $8,000 in aluminum disappeared.

In one incident, 40-foot pieces of metal, and the truck that hauled them, were stolen from the front of the building overnight.

They were located in Cleveland 15 minutes after Masser alerted the police. The thieves were set to sell $40,000 worth of metal for $2,000.

Masser made the trip north to identify his property.

"You have to be willing to prosecute" to discourage thieves, Masser said.

Knowing the likelihood that certain items are stolen, Masser doesn’t buy beer kegs or catalytic converters, which contain vaulable platinum.

Businesses can do other things to recover property. One shop that fixed transmissions marked each one with a yellow "X."

The telltale transmissions showed up at Masser’s business, and he contacted police while his employees slowly unloaded the hot merchandise.

"You need to weed out the young kids" who are ripping off everything from manhole covers to guard rails, Masser suggested.

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