Worker accused in metal theft

A San Carlos recycling center’s efforts to help police track down copper-wire thieves helped the company spot an alleged scammer on its own staff, police said.

A Sierra Pacific Recycling employee was arrested last week for allegedly falsifying 38 customer weight receipts and pocketing at least $15,000 in cash during the last three months, San Carlos police Sgt. Eric Stanley said.

Management at the recycling center suspected Lavinia Johnson, 29, of Newark, had been stealing money after finding irregularities in the company books, Stanley said.

Company officials told police that the weight of recyclable materials coming into the center wasn’t matching what was being paid to customers.

“She was faking the receipts, just making them up,” Stanley said. “She was pretty brazen about it.”

Her alleged thievery was spotted not long after the company began working with police to track down stolen metals being brought into the recycling center.

Thefts of various metals have been on the rise in the Bay Area because their scrap value has increased dramatically. Copper sells for more than $4 a pound, and brass is nearly $2 a pound, according to local law enforcement officials.

“We’ve been having serious problems with metal thefts … every recycling center in the Bay Area is inundated,” Stanley said. “If it can be stolen, stripped or taken, it will be done.”

Stanley said because of the recent thefts, Sierra Pacific has agreed to account for all metal coming in and going out. If not for the added monitoring, there’s a chance Johnson could have stolen more cash, authorities said.

Of course, Johnson wasn’t doing a great job of concealing her activities, Stanley said. It was only a matter of time before the recycling center noticed it was losing money.

“What she didn’t understand was, there’s accounting for [all] monies that go out — there is a receipt and computer entry,” he said.

Johnston was arrested for 38 counts of embezzlement while at work Wednesday. She posted $100,000 bail bond the following day. Police are continuing to work with SierraPacific Recycling on seizing stolen metals.

“They have to contact us any time something suspicious comes in or if there’s a large amount that doesn’t look right,” Stanley said.

maldax@examiner.com

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