PORTAGE, Ind. — A group of sub-contractors is accused of running a two-year scheme that stole nearly $2 million worth of scrap metal intended for U.S Steel in Northwest Indiana.
Police originally showed up to a Portage trucking company on Aug. 23, 2022 after being tipped off by the company five days prior that they had a trailer loaded with $70,000 worth of scrap metal stolen, according to documents.
A manager told police a main function of company is to take scrap from U.S. Steel, located in Burns Harbor, to U.S. Gary Works in Gary. Leftover pieces of steel from U.S. Steel are hauled back to U.S. Gary Works to be melted down into coils, documents state.
The manager went on to tell police he has had some issues that summer with some drivers unplugging their GPS units for their trucks.
The missing trailer in question was later found in Gary on Aug. 8 by the company.
Two days later on Aug 10, the manager obtained images from the Port of Indiana showing the truck on the morning of July 30. It was loaded with scrap metal coils leaving the port, according to documents.
The driver, later identified as Marland Barner, 51, allegedly admitted in an internal investigation that he took the trailer for “side work” after asking permission from mechanic John Smith Jr., 44.
Police believe the stolen scrap metal was delivered to a recycling center in Gary in exchange for money.
The following day on Aug. 24, police showed up to the recycling center. The detective was trying to determine the driver who showed up with the stolen scrap metal, how much money he received and how many times it happened, according to documents.
Detectives were able to determine the alleged incident was not a one time thing. The recycling center told police they have provided $1,944,558 to the customer number in question since August 2020.
From there the investigation, which is still ongoing, went to financial institutions and a check cashing center to link those accused in the theft ring to the two-year scheme.
Barner and Smith Jr. were charged along with Wardell Brown, 49, Jacob Reynolds, 34, Joshua Riddle, 36, and Rafael Berrios Jr., 39. All were taken into custody recently, except Brown who was charged this summer.
All of the accused men, who were sub-contractors for U.S. Steel, are facing a count of theft greater than $50,000 except Riddle, who is facing two counts of check fraud.
Smith Jr. is also facing nine additional check fraud charges and is currently going through the system for a domestic battery charge in the presence of a child, which allegedly took place in Crown Point earlier this year.
Portage police said more charges are possible.