(WTOL) - In a down economy, some are willing to break the law to make a buck.
A News 11 investigation took a hard look at the multi-million dollar business of scrap metal recycling where Toledo has numerous scrap yards.
Jonathan Walsh reports this hidden camera investigation.
With the help of Toledo police, we got our hands on a city manhole cover. Plus, we had a guy go to some yards with material that was clearly brand new just to see how the scrap businesses would react.
What we found may surprise you.
We loaded a truck with brand new insulated wire and bare copper wire -- both still on their spools. We brought brand new spouts with the tags still on them and a city of Toledo manhole cover.
On our first day we stopped at Estel's Auto Parts on South Avenue listed under the scrap metals section of the phone book.
The man's name is D we would later find out, and he takes a look at our material. "I wouldn't even be driving around with that in my truck," he says, "They'll put... You'll go to prison over that manhole cover."
He warns our scrapper about how illegal our stuff is. Then Estel Hudson, whose name is on the yard's sign, takes a look. He tells our scrapper it's all against the law.
Our scrapper asks, "Is there any other places?
Estel tells us, "Nobody in Northwestern Ohio will buy that off you, State of Ohio just passed a law."
But then as our scrapper is about to shut the door, D says, "I'll give you 20 bucks for it. That's about all."
D offers $20 for the load even after telling our scrapper how illegal everything is. He even says it's a fair offer.
News 11 law enforcement consultant Retired Sgt. Richard B. Murphy watched the tape and says the offer isn't fair or within the law. "Some scrappers will say 'Take it. Get it out of my hands. Then I don't have it anymore. The scrap yard has it.'"
Another day we loaded up our truck with $3000 worth of brand new insulated wire. We took it to Toledo Shredding on the east side where a man named Mel takes a look.
Mel is curious. "Where's it coming from?" he asks.
"From a friend," says our scrapper.
Mel replies, "We're not supposed to be buying that. There's a new law." He adds, "Anything that comes in and looks new, we're supposed to have verification from the company it came from."
Mel tells our scrapper he needs verification, but then he doesn't ask for it. He also says he can't take it on a spool.
Mel then gives our scrapper an estimate: "45 cents per pound. That's where the market's gone."
What's the sgt.'s opinion about what Mel meant? "What he's telling is to not make it brand new. Strip it down and make it look like it's old wire. When it's not on a spool and it's all stripped down, then there's no way they can tell if it's brand new or not. It's just scrap," says Murphy.
What should Mel have done as soon as he saw the spools? Retired Sergeant Murphy says, "Call the police immediately and say, 'I have a guy out here that I think has stolen property.'"
We also took the spools to R and M Recycling off LaGrange where a man named Mike inspects the material. Then calls in another guy named Bob.
Bob also inspects the stuff, then asks for verification of where it came from. Our verification was a very plain letter Jonathan Walsh put together with a made-up company on the letterhead and our station's telephone number on it.
They simply said copper is down to .25 a pound, then told us to put them on a flatbed and bring them right inside.
Bob never questions the letter or asks where our scrapper got the material. He tells him to load it all up even though it's brand new wire on spools. He then gives our scrapper an estimate saying it depends on how much it weighs.
The law enforcement expert says this situation "would be a good one for our theft squad."