But when they searched one city scrapyard, they found a World War II grave marker meant to hold the American flag. When detectives looked more closely, they saw the name "Circle" on the back. The marker, police later discovered, belonged to the grave of John Circle, a World War II veteran who served as Franklin County's engineer from 1980 until his death in 2000 at age 78.
Circle's marker was one of 56 veterans' markers that officers found when police scoured the scrapyards, stolen from Union Cemetery on the North Side. Many of the markers, including Circle's, were returned to the cemetery, but some already had been destroyed by the scrapyards.
"That becomes a disturbing circumstance, when someone is in a cemetery stealing veterans' grave markers and turning them in for cash," Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said.
A Franklin County grand jury this week returned indictments against six area scrapyards and five scrapyard employees, with charges ranging from violating scrap-metal laws to receiving stolen property to engaging in a pattern of criminal activity. The scrapyards that were indicted are New World Recycling, PSC Metals, Masser Metals & Recycling, G-Cor, Sims Brothers Recycling, and A to Z Recycling Inc.
Lin Wang and Xiaodong Qu of A to Z Recycling; Adam Greenblott of G-Cor; Jeremy Webster of PSC Metals; and Yujian Wang of New World Recycling also were indicted.
O'Brien said all are scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 19.
The sting, the first of its kind in Columbus, began in January 2014, when detectives took metal that appeared to be stolen to 19 area scrapyards and tried to sell it.
Columbus Police detective Jack Addington, the department's scrapyard detective, said the police maintain a list of known thieves, and scrapyards are not permitted to buy material from those people. In March 2014, detectives returned to the scrapyards and again tried to sell materials that appeared to be stolen. Six scrapyards bought those materials again. Some of the detectives' undercover names had been added to the "Do Not Sell To" list, and in several cases, Addington said, those detectives still made sales.
That summer, police returned to scrapyards that had bought from detectives both times, this time with a search warrant. They found plastic crates and bins, beer kegs and thousands of pounds of shredded plastic being prepped to ship to China. Much of the plastic belonged to large soda corporations — the large shells used to stack bottles. Police believe it had been stolen from area grocery stores. The plastic can be expensive: The Pepsi Company reported a loss of $100,000 in the central Ohio area in 2013.
Addington, however, said that most central Ohio scrapyards are behaving well.
"The ones that are not doing it right are the ones that are indicted," he said."