Eighteen indicted in international copper theft ring

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See photos from the press conference online at http://bit.ly/YkFInd.

By John Hernandez

Eighteen people have been indicted on numerous charges stemming from the ASARCO copper thefts.

The investigation began in late 2012 after a tractor trailer headed for California was stopped and was found to be loaded with stolen copper anodes from the ASARCO mine. DPS Criminal Investigations detectives began investigating what is believed to be a large and complex criminal syndicate that have stolen tons of copper from the ASARCO mine in Hayden, Arizona. The thefts have been traced as far back as 2006 and are estimated to be at least $10 million worth of copper. Most of the copper was traced to a scrap metal yard in Upland, California where the copper was then being shipped to international destinations including mainland China.

The owners of the scrap metal company, New Star Services Joanne Hu and Chihchan Lin and one of their employees, Chun Chen Pedroza have had warrants issued for their arrest. Hu and Lin are believed to be in Taiwan. The location of Pedroza is unknown.

Fifteen of the suspected thieves are from Arizona. Two ASARCO employees are alleged to have facilitated the thefts. According to investigators, Rene Joe Arbizo and Gene Carlo Garcia played key parts from within ASARCO in setting up the thefts of copper which included anodes as well as copper anode molds. The molds weigh 6,000 pounds and are made of pure copper. Garcia is from San Manuel and Arbizo is from the Aravaipa area.

The Arbizo and Sons Ranch was searched on Monday. Three vehicles including a tractor and two pick ups and 14 weapons were confiscated. The weapons were of the hunting variety, rifles and pistols. Arbizo and Garcia are each facing 10 felony counts. Arbizo had 18 years at ASARCO.

Lillian Campos of Winkelman was also indicted. She worked as a contract security guard at ASARCO and is suspected of allowing the stolen copper to leave the premises.

At a press conference held at the DPS headquarters in Tucson, Assistant Attorney General Mike Jette said, “Tom Horne and the Attorney General’s Office take seriously the theft of one of the five pillars of this economy, copper. We will prosecute very diligently.”

It was also reported that none of these suspects are in custody. They have either bonded out of jail or are not considered flight risks.

The other suspects are facing numerous charges which includes Illegally Conducting an Enterprise, Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Fraudulent, Schemes and Artifices, and Theft.

DPS Captain Ryan Young said, “I am extremely proud of DPS and the cooperation of all agencies involved in this international investigation.”

Below is a list of all the suspects and their role in the thefts:

Rene Joe Arbizo, supervisor at ASARCO; all counts

Gene Carlo Garcia, supervisor at ASARCO; all counts

Lillian Campos, former contract security guard at ASARCO; all counts

Avelino Rubal, transportation

Robert Elkins, transportation

Caleb Elkins, transportation

Quentin Elkins, transportation

Angel Rubal, transportation

Frank Garcia Duarte, employee of Desert Metals Recycling (Desert metals is not involved)

Todd Kennedy, truck driver

William Stevens, truck driver

Allen Nichols, truck driver

Chun Chen Pedroza, New Star Services employee in Upland, California

Joanne Hu, owner New Star Services

Chinchan Lin, owner New Star Services

Marcos Gallego, owner of Mariposa Recycling/REYCO Inc. Tucson and Nogales

Jesus Mariano Luna Vazquez, supervisor at Mariposa Recycling in Nogales.

Louis Ernesto Gallego, relative of Marcos Gallego, introduced Rubal to Vazquez.

This is still an ongoing investigation and the Assistant Attorney General could not comment to the question of the possibility of more suspects. ASARCO was represented at the press conference by Doug Lemke.

“ASARCO LLC truly thanks the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and commends them for their diligent efforts as part of the investigation of stolen copper anodes from ASARCO’s Hayden facility,” said Thomas L. Aldrich of ASARCO LLC in a statement released Tuesday following the press conference.

“DPS promptly began investigating the stolen copper following the information ASARCO provided. ASARCO fully cooperated as part of this investigation and will continue to do so as the prosecution proceeds against those individuals identified as being involved. ASARCO is pleased that the information and investigation has now led to the indictment of numerous people on scores of felony counts,” Aldrich added.

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