Copper bandits loot Brooklyn

There’s a new Gold Rush going on in Brooklyn — but the precious metal isn’t the same one that drove the ’49ers crazy.

It’s copper.

Thieves broke into at least five metal companies and construction sites in Greenpoint and Williamsburg last week — the latest in a wave of copper thefts throughout Brooklyn that is directly attributed to the once-cheap electrical conductor’s soaring prices on the international metals market.

Copper now costs $8,700 per metric ton, up from $3,000 a ton just three years ago.

Thefts of the penny-like metal dominated the police blotter in the 90th and 94th precincts this week:

• Thieves got more than $6,000 worth of copper — and $5,000 in cash — from a metal supply company on Vandervort Avenue on April 10 — thanks to some dastardly wiles, cool nerves and some chicken wings.

The crooks got into the shop, which is between Hewes Street and Maspeth Avenue, after the store closed at 7:30 pm and subdued a guard dog by feeding him the poultry, cops say.

Cops believe it’s an inside job, given the weight of the copper stolen.

• A crook stole $5,000 in copper piping from a Newton Street construction site on April 4. This crime was a bit less sophisticated, as the thief merely yanked copper piping from the inside walls on all five floors of the building, between Graham and Manhattan avenues.

• Two thugs snatched copper piping from an apartment building on the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Calyer Street on April 7 — but this time, cops caught them copper-handed.

• Crooks got only $135 in copper form a Lombardy Street construction company’s office on April 8 — and their crime was discovered when water started flooding the boiler room.

• Thieves snatched 150 copper pipes — a total haul of $2,500 — from a second Newton Street on construction site, also on the block between Graham and Manhattan avenues, on April 9.

The latest heists come on the heels of a December story in The Brooklyn Paper that revealed that there had been four heists of copper in Brownstone Brooklyn since June.

In that story, a construction site security guard said that he’s always being offered bribes to look the other way so that thieves can steal copper.

“If someone tries to steal from this site, they have to go through me, and that’s not going to happen,” said the guard, Dennis Wise, who manned a post at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Willoughby Street.

“These people come and offer me a few hundred bucks to risk my job so they can get some copper,” Wise said. “But I’m smarter than that. My job is worth more than a few hundred dollars.”

Law enforcement has been into the act, with local precinct commanders assigning cops to prevent copper capers before they happen.

Police Officer Thomas Brown of the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg regular visits construction sites to remind workers to lock up their copper pipes and wire every night.

“When a thief passes by a construction site, he thinks, ‘Oh, they’ve got new pipes in there, I can just go in and rip them out and I’ll be set,’” Brown said. “But he can’t do that if the site is secure and guarded.”

But even a guarded site can become a target. Just ask the construction crew at the Ikea in Red Hook. Thieves raided the guarded, fenced-in site in June and stole a huge cache of welding cable.

All the thefts put Brooklyn in the center of a larger national trend, experts said.

“There’s been a huge escalation in copper thievery,” said Ken Geremia, a spokesman for the Copper Development Association, an industry group. “With the market price being at a historic high, thefts are also at a historic high.”

— with Gersh Kuntzman