Apr 30, 2013 7:38 PM by Lupita Murillo

International copper theft ring busted, 18 indicted

HAYDEN - An international copper theft ring busted. 18 people from Southern Arizona to Taiwan indicted on 136 felony counts. Among those two Asarco mine employees in Hayden.

Arizona Department of Public Safety Investigators say the copper had been disappearing from Asarco's Hayden mine for seven years.
Last September DPS officers pulled over a flatbed truck that investigators say was loaded with stolen copper ingots from the Hayden mine. They tracked the ingots to the Port of Los Angeles where some of the ingots were loaded into shipping containers headed for China.

12 search warrants followed including one in Upland California, and two earlier this month at recycling plants in Tucson and Nogales. News 4 Tucson is the only TV station to cover this story as it has unfolded over the past seven months.

DPS investigators say more than $10 million worth of copper ingots have been stolen from the mine they say it was an inside job. They say Gene Garcia is one of those responsible. He was arrested early Monday morning as he got off shift at the Hayden mine. Sgt. Mike Lehar says, "They had people inside the plant that were setting copper aside then picking it up."

Investigators say Rene Arbizu was another key player on the inside. "Arbizu was one of the shift managers. He was one of the ones who was getting the copper moved."

Arbizu and Garcia face multiple charges that include money laundering, conducting an illegal enterprise, fraud, conspiracy and theft. Arbizu's bond is set at $1,000,000 and Garcia's at $500,000. Attorney General Tom Horne's office is prosecuting the case. He told News 4 Tucson, "This is another example of a valuable partnership to put a stop to people who were stealing millions of dollars worth of copper which I think is a serious crime Az. Dept. Of public Safety officials says they're sending a message to anyone involved in metal theft. "Don't do it, and if you do you will be caught". Asarco sent this statement regarding the investigation.
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."

News 4 Tucson has been tracking this story since the investigation began back in September. We'll bring you exclusive video of the arrests Tuesday at 5.

Here's coverage of the multi-million dollar operation we brought to you on News 4:

PHOENIX - A multi-million dollar copper theft ring that relied upon inside help from now-fired employees of Arizona copper producer ASARCO, LLC has been broken up, Attorney General Tom Horne announced Tuesday. The case was investigated by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

"This is a stunning example of theft on a massive scale," Horne said. "Copper production is a signature component of our state's economy. For these defendants to abuse their positions at a mining producer and allow this valuable resource to be stolen and re-sold on the black market is unconscionable.

I want to thank ASARCO, LLC for their invaluable help in this case. And the Department of Public Safety is to be commended for its tremendous investigative work that resulted in these defendants facing charges."

The 18 defendants face 10 criminal counts including: illegally conducting an enterprise, conspiracy, money laundering, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and theft involving nearly $10 million in stolen raw copper from ASARCO, LLC.

The Department of Public Safety began investigating members of this criminal enterprise in September, 2012 after a traffic stop of a semi-truck carrying nearly $180,000 worth of raw copper ingots stolen from the ASARCO mine based in Hayden, AZ.

During the criminal investigation, DPS determined that several defendants employed at ASARCO, LLC in Hayden, Arizona had used their positions to facilitate the theft of semi-truck loads of raw copper from ASARCO's Hayden mine operation.

Defendants working at ASARCO's Hayden mine have been fired.

Other defendants were responsible for driving the raw copper loads to heavy metal recyclers both in Arizona and in California. These heavy metal recyclers would purchase the stolen copper from defendants at a fraction of the commodity price and would resell it to Chinese importers at a profit. In an effort to deceive U.S. Customs inspectors, defendants working at one of these heavy metal recyclers would blacken the raw copper to disguise the precious metal as scrap metal before loading it into cargo containers on ships destined for China.

ASARCO, LLC, has been instrumental in the investigation of this case, referring the case to the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General's Office for investigation and prosecution. Assistant Attorneys General Mike Jette and Kim Ortiz are prosecuting this case.

These charges are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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