A multi-agency raid led by Police Chief Christopher Howell on Thursday targeted five illegally operating scrap metal and recycling shops on St. Croix, shutting them down for a number of violations and continuing the department’s effort to stem the recent wave of criminal activity involving both copper and scrap metal, which seems to be a growing market on St. Croix.
The law enforcement offensive consisted of Virgin Islands’ police officers, including the Special Operations Team, and law enforcement from Fire, V.I. Waste Management Authority (VIWMA), and Consumer and Licensing Affairs.
“This community has been deeply affected by the scrap metal industry because of the profits that can be made by selling scrap metal. Unfortunately, this has spawned an illegal market for selling stolen goods,” Howell said.
The officers inspected five locations during the raid: Francis Metal, which has two locations, one in Bassin Triangle, Christiansted, and the other in Mars Hill, Frederiksted; Fernando Scrap Metal, which operates from a storage bay in Estate Castle Coakley; Heritage Recycling in Estate Whim; and another business without a name operated from the rear of La India bar on Queen Street in Christiansted.
The establishments were piled high with aluminum louvers, air conditioning units, radio transmitters, copper and steel wiring, car batteries, nuts, bolts, car radiators, and other industrial waste materials.
“Citations were issued by the VIWMA for a variety of violations and other non-compliance issues, and none of the companies held a valid permit from the VIWMA to conduct a recycling business,” said May Adams Cornwall, the Executive Director VIWMA. “All of the businesses were alleged to be shipping the scrap metal, special and hazardous waste, to off-island vendors. The business owners would have to show proof of this prior to being issued a permit to conduct a recycling business. The citations are a minimum of $1,000 per violation for the initial violation and $2,500 for second offenses. These violations are criminal offenses and offenders can be fined or serve up to 180 days in imprisonment.”
DCLA cited the businesses for collecting materials other than scrap metals and operating from a location other than what was shown on their permits. The Fire Department cited some businesses for operating a business that was a fire hazard.
All these violations combined allowed the VIPD to move forward and close the businesses until the owners become compliant with the law, Howell said. However he added that several of the businesses will not be able to reopen because the violations were too serious.
Four of the businesses did not have a license to operate. VIWMA officers said the businesses would have to literally “clean up their act” before reopening. All scrap material must be cleared from the respective areas before the businesses can resume operations.
Heritage Recycling, which Chief Howell noted “came the closest to being in full compliance,” had recyclable industrial material strewn around a quarter acre plot in a residential district. “All this needs to go,” an enforcement officer noted. Some possible stolen property was confiscated from the Queen Street business, Howell said.
Officers will follow up the investigation and attempt to identify the owners of the businesses. A firearm was confiscated at the Heritage Recycling location in Estate Whim: it was licensed, but the owner was violating the license conditions. One illegal person was found to be working at the Castle Coakley location. He was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Howell said several receipt books were confiscated that recorded large sums of money paid for bronze and a sale of more than 158 pounds of copper at two dollars a pound. Howell noted that officers will attempt to trace the receipts back to the persons that sold the material.
“With this raid today, we have effectually shut down the illegal scrap metal business on St. Croix. We anticipate that this will reduce and hopefully curtail the theft and illegal sale of these items,” Howell said. “This operation is not complete; there is another phase that will be revealed when the time is right. In the meantime, the VIPD will continue to monitor the scrap metal industry to make sure the laws are adhered to and the community does not suffer.”
Acting Police Commissioner Raymond L. Hyndman congratulated the officers and law enforcement from other agencies for the success of the operation. He noted that the sale of illegal scrap metal is less prevalent on St. Thomas, but St. Croix is bearing the brunt of this unlawful activity.
“I hope this action will bring relief to the people of St. Croix, who have endured the loss of business equipment, recreational equipment, and even the loss of grave markers on their loved ones’ final resting places," Hyndman said. "Let this be an example to those businesses who continue to operate outside of the law, you never know when the police will show up at your business, but you can be certain that they will."