PHILADELPHIA—A nickel here, a nickel there, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real money.
Workers at a suburban Philadelphia steel plant operated a sophisticated theft ring that smuggled nearly $1 million worth of nickel off the grounds, speaking in code to avoid detection and paying security workers to look the other way, prosecutors said Dec. 14.
The Chester County district attorney’s office announced charges against eight people accused of stealing more than 55 tons of nickel, an ingredient in steel. Prosecutors said the defendants sold the nickel to a Philadelphia metals recycling facility and pocketed the proceeds.
“The most difficult crime to stop is an inside job,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said. “The conspirators knew exactly how to evade detection while carrying out their crimes.”
The theft ring operated inside ArcelorMittal’s vast production facility in South Coatesville, where huge superstacks of nickel briquettes were regularly pilfered.
In one particularly brazen theft, workers loaded a rented box truck with so much nickel that its front wheels lifted off the ground. The driver had to slam on the brakes to get the stolen nickel to slide to the front of the truck, court documents say.
The scheme might have continued indefinitely had a plant manager not caught one of the defendants shovelling nickel briquettes into buckets. Court papers say the thief admitted his role and pointed the finger at his co-conspirators.
ArcelorMittal, headquartered in Luxembourg, is the world’s largest steel producer. Its plant outside Philadelphia employs hundreds of workers, prosecutors said.
“By stealing from their own company, these defendants were taking food off the table from their own colleagues,” Hogan said.
All but one of the defendants have been arrested. Some of them admitted their involvement when confronted by detectives, an affidavit said.
Hogan said there’s no indication the recycling facility knew it was buying stolen materials and it will not face charges.