WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published April 08, 2013, 03:46 PM

Copper thieves hit Fargo branch of Dakota Supply; Grand Forks branch hit month ago

Police are investigating the theft of about 29,000 pounds of copper wiring valued at $120,000 from a Dakota Supply Co., store in north Fargo over the weekend, said Pauline Berg, branch manager of the store. Berg said the store still is investigating exactly how much was stolen and its exact wholesale value.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Police are investigating the theft of about 29,000 pounds of copper wiring valued at $120,000 from a Dakota Supply Co., store in north Fargo over the weekend, said Pauline Berg, branch manager of the store. Berg said the store still is investigating exactly how much was stolen and its exact wholesale value.

The reported theft comes a month after 13,223 pounds of copper wire was reported stolen from the Dakota Supply store in Grand Forks, also valued at about $110,000.

“It feels a little strange,” that the Dakota Supply stores may seem targeted by thieves, Clair Zirnhelt, branch manager and vice president in the Grand Forks store, said Monday.

Dakota Supply, with two dozen stores from Wisconsin to Montana, is a wholesaler that sells copper wire and other electrical products to contractors and power utilities, including Minnkota Power Cooperative in Grand Forks.

It means there is a lot of copper wire on hand at any time in the Dakota Supply warehouse in the Grand Forks industrial park, company officials said in describing how the thieves obviously knew what they were doing.

Zirnhelt said the products stolen from the Grand Forks store a month ago included several sizes of wire, much of it “circuit-sized,” that was almost like a contractor’s list of what’s needed for a specific construction job. The wholesale price, or what it cost Dakota Supply, for the wire products was about $110,000.

In the case of the Fargo theft, different and larger copper wire products were stolen that had a lower wholesale value per pound, Berg said.

The theft at the Fargo Dakota Supply store was reported at 6:05 a.m. Monday.

An initial report of the Fargo theft involving 75,000 pounds of copper wire valued at $250,000 was incorrect, Berg said.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Jim Remer said Monday his investigators have been comparing notes with Fargo police about the copper thefts. Both cities have seen several thefts of copper wire from businesses in the past two years. The two latest, one in each city, are the largest copper thefts in each city, police said.

Fargo police say they also are working with state and federal law enforcement agencies about the stolen copper.

“We’re not seeing the metal showing up locally, so it’s being transported across state lines, and usually multiple state lines,” Deputy Police Chief Pat Claus told Forum Communications about previous metal thefts.

Driving the trend of more copper thefts is the relatively high scrap price of copper of $3.25 to $3.50 per pound, Zirnhelt said. Rising construction prices also provide incentives for the thefts.

It’s difficult to trace such stolen copper wire because there is no detailed identification that makes it easy to prove a certain spool of copper wire came from any certain wholesaler or other owner, police and Dakota Supply officials said.

Zirnhelt said one possible lead came in recently about the theft in Grand Forks that happened over the weekend of March 2-3; but no verification could be made that it was the same brand of wire stolen from Dakota Supply in Grand Forks.

The Grand Forks store plans to install security cameras and alarms because of the March theft, but hasn’t decided yet on just what plan to use, Zirnhelt said. Meanwhile, the warehouse is taking measures, such as parking vehicles at the doors, to make it nearly impossible to repeat such a theft, he said.

One possible market for such stolen copper wire is the scrap market. But that would require stripping off the insulation, a fairly arduous task, and scrap dealers generally have to keep good records of the identity of sellers. More likely, perhaps, for the kind of wire products stolen from the Grand Forks store is someone who can use the wire for what it’s made for, which adds value to it.

The retail value, for example, of the wire stolen from the Dakota Supply store in Grand Forks would be a mark-up from the $110,000 estimated wholesale value, Zirnhelt said.

Tags: