Valley farms hit by rash of metal theft

FRESNO, Calif.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office Ag Task Force said farms west of Highway 99 between Selma and Caruthers have been hit hard in recent weeks. Growers are both fed up and fearful.

Various pieces of scrap metal stolen from Valley farms, including aluminum ladders and plenty of copper wire, are constantly being recovered by detectives.

Sgt. Michael Chapman said, "The biggest theft that's going on right now is metal theft and it's copper wire going from the power panel to the pump."

This week almond grower Mandhir Singh became the latest victim. He wondered why the pump to water his orchard wouldn't work. "When I looked here I saw the wires were gone."

Thieves have struck Singh's farm three times in a week and a half. They couldn't remove his water pump but they've stolen brass valves in addition to copper wire.

Singh said, "It is frustrating and it is kind of scary also. Like I told you we have been living here last 18-19 years. Nothing has happened. Now if they can come get the wires here they can come to the house too."

Several Selma farmers have been hit recently. In this case, the stolen copper wire may be worth 50-dollars at a salvage yard but the cost to farmers is much higher.

Insurance agent Harry Gill said, "If they have 1,000 dollar deductible, to put that copper wire back it's going to cost 1500, 2000 dollars. So after deductible there's no way they can recoup all their money.

Sgt. Chapman said legislation requiring an ID card and a three day wait to get paid has helped reduce copper wire theft. But thieves are getting around the rule by selling to middle men - junk dealers who deal with metal yards every day.

Chapman explained, "So what they're doing, people are unable to be paid within the time, are going to itinerant junk dealers. They're basically meeting them outside and they're getting a fraction of the value of the scrap metal but they're getting paid right away."

Sgt. Chapman said detectives often show up unannounced at local metal yards to look out for any suspicious activity.

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