NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A three-month undercover investigation by the Metro Police Fraud Unit resulted in the raid of a Nashville scrap metal dealer accused of buying stolen copper and catalytic converters.
The raid was conducted Monday afternoon at All Star Recycling on Craighead Street.
Police arrested one scrap metal worker, Ying Bin Chen, 52, who investigators say was blatantly buying metal that he knew was stolen.
Michael Barrett runs City Electric Supply which is almost directly across the street from the scrap yard.
For years, City Electric has experienced break-ins and thefts in which thieves have stolen expensive copper wire. In one theft, Barrett estimates his company lost $15,000 when one man rolled huge spools of wire out of the warehouse.
This past September, Berry Hill police found one of these alleged thieves burning the coating off the copper wire in a creek right across the street from All Star Recycling.
During the arrest, bodycam video captured the ex-con talking with the officer about the alleged crime.
Suspect: “Yeah, I was burning wire.”
Officer: “You are burning wire?”
Officer: “Okay, so you are doing something wrong, so you ran? So you were doing something bad, right?”
Over the years, Barrett estimates his company has lost thousands to copper thieves.
In a previous story, News 2 asked Barrett about the thefts.
Andy Cordan: “What do you want to say to those guys on bikes stealing copper?”
Barrett: “Get a life. Get a life. Find something to do with your life.”
After Monday’s police raid, Barrett and other businesses applauded the enforcement at the recycling center.
Cordan: “Do you have any definitive proof, do you know for a fact that on one occasion or two occasions that what you have here was stolen and went over there?”
Barrett: “I don’t have definitive proof, but everyone knows what is happening with the stolen copper off the job sites and word around town is this is the place to go because they were not following all the procedures that the other scrap yards were following.”
On Tuesday, News 2 went to All Star Recycling to get answers.
When we arrived we found dozens and dozens of shopping carts stacked everywhere. The carts were labeled with Walmart and Bargain Hut.
There were piles of scrap metal in the yard.
After a few minutes, a recycling center employee who identified himself as Keng arrived.
We ask him for his response to the arrest of his co-worker, Ying Bin Chen, charged with conspiracy to commit theft over $2,500.
Cordan: “Have you been taking material, looking the other way, handing people money, and saying ‘thanks, see ya soon.’ Have you been doing that?”
Keng: “I don’t know.”
Cordan: “Has he been doing that?”
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Throughout the interview, Keng assured News 2 that his company tries to obey the law and stay on top of where the scrap is coming from and if it is being sold legally.
Cordan: “Do you do a good job? Do you try and follow the law?”
Keng: “Yeah, we try and follow the law, but sometimes, you can see all the material here, and if we don’t understand, we will ask where that comes from.”
Cordan: “If I come to you with five catalytic converters, doesn’t that raise a red flag, especially some of these guys who are on drugs all day long?”
Keng: “Well, they say they come from the mechanic shop.”
Cordan: “They say they came from the mechanic shop, but they have to give you documents.”
Keng: “We need to get the I.D.”
Cordan: “Do you do that? Do you get I.D.?
While conducting the interview, a regular customer arrived, vouching for the company.
Cordan: “They ask you all the time, to prove this is yours?”
Customer: “Yeah, that’s what they want.”
Barrett says the raid was a long time coming.
“I think it is a good thing. It draws a lot of bad stuff to this community,” Barrett said. “Maybe it will keep people’s wire from getting stolen and keep people’s catalytic converters from getting cut off their vehicles.”
Despite what Keng and the customer told News 2, a press release by the Metro Nashville Police Department clearly says their undercover agents came to All Star Recycling multiple times with scrap metal, some still in the original packaging, and sold the merchandise without proof of ownership to Chen.
According to the press release, the undercover agents even clearly stated the metal in their possession was stolen. The press release says Chen purchased the materials, still.
In all, Metro police say they sold the scrap yard approximately $2,800 worth of metals
Tennessee has precise Scrap Metal Laws that include:
- Tennessee scrap metal dealers must fingerprint sellers at the time the metal is being purchased.
- Tennessee requires scrap sellers to provide their driver’s licenses to scrap dealers, as well as provide license plate information to the scrap dealers.
- Tennessee requires scrap metal dealers to keep records of all transactions for three years.