WYOMING, Mich. (WZZM) - A Grand Rapids man has been charged with stealing forklifts and turning them in for scrap metal, earning up to $1,500 for each piece of machinery.
William H. Darling Jr., 37, is charged with larceny between $1,000 and $20,000, for a forklift reported stolen in September from Printech ADS on Jefferson Avenue SE in Wyoming.
He is among a growing number of people being prosecuted for stealing everything from copper pipes to manhole covers and trading them in for cash at West Michigan salvage yards.
Under a change in state law, scrap metal dealers must now photograph scrap metal brought in for sale, making it less attractive for thieves looking to make a quick buck. But with copper prices on the rise and scrap iron fetching about 8 cents a pound, there is money to be made, industry officials say.
James Childs of Wyoming knows the business from both sides. He's dealt in recycled scrap goods and is also among the growing number of business owners victimized by scrap thieves. A $15,000 forklift was removed from outside his Wyoming business and sold to a scrap metal dealer for $1,500. Darling was charged in that theft.
"I'm in an industrial area so a neighbor across the street may not think anything about a truck pulling up in there,'' he said. "They just pull up to the back of it, put a wench on it and just dragged it right up on the trailer. If someone has their logo on it they may rough it up and take the logo off.''
Police arrested William Darling after the owner of an Ottawa County business caught him leaving a job site with the businessman's fork lift. He's been linked to several forklift thefts in the area which were then sold for scrap at Grand Rapids salvage yard.
"It's one of those things you park outside, you see it every day, you go by and today I needed to use it,'' Childs said. "So I ask all my employees, did you move the Hi-Lo? We go out and learn it's gone.''
Municipalities and utilities have also been victimized by scrap metal thieves. Over the last several years, copper theft from Consumers Energy substations has grown, including its facility on Wealthy Street SW. The state Department of Transportation has experienced copper thefts in the Detroit area, state officials said.
The Kent County Road Commission also reports that it occasionally responds to reports of missing manhole covers and sewer grates, presumably stolen by scrap metal thieves.