PHOENIX -- The Arizona Department of Public Safety has broken up a multimillion-dollar copper theft ring that allegedly relied on inside help from employees of the ASARCO mine in Hayden, Ariz., according to officials.
Eighteen people face 10 criminal counts, including illegally conducting an enterprise, conspiracy, money laundering, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and theft.
DPS Criminal Investigations Division detectives began investigating members of this criminal enterprise in September after a traffic stop of a semitruck carrying nearly $180,000 worth of stolen raw copper ingots.
The thefts from the ASARCO mine began as far back as 2006 and totaled $10 million worth of copper, according to DPS officials.
Rene Joe Arbizo and Gene Carlo Garcia were supervisors at the mine and played critical roles in the thefts, according to DPS officials. They both face 10 felony counts each as a result of this investigation.
Other defendants were responsible for driving the semitruck loads of raw copper to heavy metal recyclers both in Arizona and in California, according to a media release from the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The recyclers would purchase the stolen copper at a fraction of the commodity price then resell it to Chinese importers at a profit.
In an effort to deceive U.S. Customs inspectors, defendants working at one of these recyclers would blacken the raw copper to disguise it as scrap metal before loading it into cargo containers on ships destined for China, according to the news release.
"This is a stunning example of theft on a massive scale," Attorney General Tom 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."
Defendants working at ASARCO's Hayden mine have been fired.
Below is a list of the suspects and their role in the thefts:
Rene Joe Arbizo, supervisor at ASARCO; all counts, warrant issued
Gene Carlo Garcia, supervisor at ASARCO; all counts, warrant issued
Lillian Campos, former contract security guard at ASARCO; all counts, warrant issued
Avelino Rubal, transportation
Robert Elkins, transportation
Caleb Elkins, transportation
Quentin Elkins, transportation
Angela Rubal, transportation
Frank Garcia Duarte, employee of Desert Metals Recycling (Desert Metals is not involved)
Todd Kennedy, truck driver
William Stevens, truck driver
Allen Nichols, truck driver
Chun Chen Pedroza, New Star Services employee in Upland, Calif., warrant issued
Joanne Hu, New Star Services owner in Upland, Calif., currently in Taiwan, warrant issued
Chihchan Lin, New Star Services owner in Upland, Calif., currently in Taiwan, warrant issued
Marcos Gallego, owner of Mariposa Recycling / RECYCO INC. Tucson and Nogales
Jesus Mariano Luna Vazquez, supervisor at Mariposa Recycling in Nogales
Louis Ernesto Gallego, relative to Marcos Gallego, introduced Rubal to Vazquez
ASARCO LLC is an integrated copper mining, smelting and refining company with approximately 2,700 employees. The company is headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., and operates mines, mills and a smelter near Tucson and a refinery in Amarillo, Texas.