Scrap thieves show no respect, and earn nothing but jail time

Scrap thieves are craven and reck- less creatures.

They enter empty houses and strip copper plumbing and wires from the basement and walls, virtually assuring that the homes become unsalvageable. That allows for a second onslaught sometime later, when the same or other scavengers strip the aluminum siding from the outside of the house.

They enter industrial sites in search of copper electrical wires. A few have been so reckless or stupid as to be electrocuted while trying to steal a hot high-voltage line.

Some have destroyed works of art, prying statues from parks or in front of libraries, sometimes breaking it up in an attempt to make it unrecognizable before taking it to a scrap dealer.

And some have entered cemeteries, stealing metal flag holders from veterans’ graves or snapping brass urns from tombstones to take them to a scrap yard.

But few have sunk to the depths of the one who entered Mahoning Valley Memorial Park in Youngstown with a hacksaw in his hands and thievery in his heart.

He managed to combine desecration of a cemetery, disrespect for military veterans and contempt for art, all at once.

A 4-foot statue of a soldier valued for as much as $36,000 was cut off at the ankles and carted away. It was smashed to pieces and some of those pieces were redeemed at a Girard scrap yard for the piddling sum of $25.50.

This person was willing to engage in a trifecta of disrespect — for the dead, for veterans and for art — for a pittance. Twenty-five dollars: the amount any self-respecting person could make shoveling a couple of sidewalks during the winter of mowing a lawn during the summer. And, obviously, if the person had the wherewithal to hack a statue from its base and carry it away, he had the ability to do honest labor. Standing on a corner with a sign “will work for food” — even if he had no intention of working — carries more dignity than grave robbing.

New laws at work

Fortunately, Ohio has adopted new laws in recent years — the most recent in 2012 — aimed at helping to make stolen scrap metal traceable to the thief. In this case the Girard Recycling Center deserves credit for reporting the receipt of the suspicious scrap to police.

The law is working to the extent that it will make it possible to seek at least some measure of justice, but it hasn’t yet reached its full potential for deterrence.

Richard R. Couturiaux, 30, of Brookfield appeared before Girard Municipal Court Judge Jeffrey D. Adler and was bound over on a fifth-degree felony of receiving stolen property and remains in jail, unable to post a bond of $82,500. Perhaps when it considers the totality of the circumstance, the grand jury will be able to find an even more serious charge to bring against him. But whatever the case, if he is found guilty, Couturiaux, will not have deserved that $25.50, but he will have richly earned every day he gets to spend in jail.

This case deserves all the attention it is getting and more. It is important for thieves who have no respect for other people’s property or for society’s conventions of right and wrong, to learn that stripping houses and destroying neighborhoods or robbing graveyards and desecrating art work does not pay.

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