New legislation making copper theft a felony instead of a misdemeanor was introduced Thursday in the South Carolina General Assembly by a local lawmaker.

Sponsored by S.C. House Minority Leader Rep. Harry Ott, (D-St. Matthews), the bill would stiffen penalties associated with stealing and illegally purchasing copper. The legislation amends current state law regarding unlawful acquisition of nonferrous metals.

The bill would make it illegal for anyone to sell copper without first receiving an annual permit issued by the sheriff. Ott said metal recyclers would also be required to purchase copper from a fixed location using a check rather than cash.

"Hopefully, this would stop the flow of cash to those who steal copper," Ott said. "That means the recyclers won't be able to purchase copper from someone out of the back of a truck.

"They will have to have eye-to-eye contact with the sheriff. We are trying to make it as hard as we can to keep people from selling stolen copper."

The legislation was created following input from constituents, church leaders and law enforcement, he said. Conceding the bill "isn't perfect," Ott said it is a starting point.

"This started back last summer at the request of (Carolina Fresh Farms President) Johnny Fogle," Ott said. "We met with (the late Orangeburg County sheriff) Larry Williams, the Sheriff's Association, solicitors and representatives of the scrap metal industry."

"My colleagues from all over the state have experience with this rash of copper theft. I do believe we will have a lot of support," he said. "Hopefully, we can make the bill tougher as it goes along."

The victim of several copper thefts from irrigation systems at his Neeses business, Fogle was hit again in July 2010. More than two years ago, Fogle offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a copper thief. One month later, he and his wife were assaulted during a home invasion.

Contact the writer: psarata@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5540.

 

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