West Michigan scrap dealers react to tougher law

Wyoming (WZZM) - Michigan lawmakers gave final approval, Thursday, to legislation aimed at cracking down on scrap metal thieves. In a statement, Governor Rick Snyder, said HB 4593 "includes common sense reforms that provide tools to help police crack down on the thefts, and also make it more difficult for people to quickly and easily sell stolen metals." Local scrap metal dealers are saying the exact opposite.

"It is going to be expensive and time-consuming," said Shelly Padnos, executive vice president of Padnos Iron and Metal Company.

The Holland-based company is more than a century old. It manages recycling services and pays for scrap metal in 18 locations throughout the Midwestern United States.

Shelley Padnos says they were among many who attempted to work with lawmakers to help create changes that had a shot of discouraging scrap metal theft instead of the bill that industry insiders think totally misses the mark.

"Our industry offered to create a searchable database with information uploaded every night at our expense. It would be accessible by police," she said. "They turned that down and the [Detroit] Crime Commission Report suggest a 3 day waiting period. Now there is no incentive to do that."

That "waiting period" included in earlier versions of the proposed bill required customers to wait three days to receive payment. The issue became the main sticking point in getting the bill passed. It was previously approved by the House, but removed by the Senate.

Lawmakers reached a compromise with the bill by ending what sponsor state Rep. Paul Muxlow calls ending "green money – or cash – sales of air conditioner components, catalytic converters and copper wire, the three most commonly stolen items."

Now scrap metal dealers must mail checks for all sales over $25 dollars. For those under, they can issue encrypted debit cards.

"Under the new scenario we will have to generate a check, print, review, sign and mail it. Then we will have to review registers every day when they are cashed," said Padnos.

"There is probably only under a half a dozen people in all of Grand Rapids that are actually doing the stealing. So to punish all of us, the dealers and all the scrap guys buying with the costs for us to buy the stamps and envelops and make sure it is in the mail. All the extra paperwork and everything and really what are they achieving," said Randy VandenToorn, owner of Dusty's Scrap West Michigan Iron & Metal in Wyoming.

The bill also requires a photo be taken of the individual sell the scrap metal and the materials being sold. This is already common practice for VandenToorn's and Padnos' companies.

In fact, Padnos goes as far to scan drivers' licenses, take thumb prints, all of which is available for police.

"Everybody who comes in here has to produce a drivers license. They have to sign an affidavit saying they didn't steal the product. We have their name, address and phone number and I have yet to see a police officer coming in here looking for a catalytic converter," said VandenToorn.

He says even if they had, it is nearly impossible to link any piece of scrap metal to its original source.

"How do they identify it? There are no serial numbers there is nothing on any of the products that come in here. How will they identify if even if they do think Joe Blow stole that catalytic converter," he said.

West Michigan scrap dealers think time and money would be better spent having police patrol high risk and problem areas, which are mostly in other parts of the state like Detroit and Flint.

"It is a crazy law that somebody who probably has never been in a scrap yard has created," he said.

On average, if a company has 500 customers a month the additional costs of stamps alone will cost nearly $3,000 a year.

VandenToorn says the law will not only hurt businesses but honest scrappers.

"Exactly, these guys are scratching the bottom of the barrel to make a living. I mean, they are out there getting the junk out of the alleys and from small businesses and trying to make a living at this stuff. And, really what you are doing is punishing all of those people as well for a few bad apples."

Scrap metal dealers believe those "bad apples" will now just wait the additional time to get the money or go to neighboring states to sell stolen scrap.


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