Thieves have taken more than $15,000 in metal, likely for scrap, in what Mount Laurel police said were unusual thefts for the township.

In a recent theft, about 30 metal shopping carts were stolen between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m. Friday from the ShopRite at 1000 Nixon Dr., just north of where Route 73 and I-295 meet.

An unidentified witness saw someone pushing the carts down Route 73. No description was provided, said Lt. Paul Modugno, a police spokesman.

A ShopRite manager declined to comment, citing corporate policy.

There were no suspects in the theft, Modugno said, and no official motive had been determined. Given the unusual nature of the theft, he said, it was likely the carts were taken to be sold for scrap.

The carts cost about $300 each, police said.

As scrap, they wouldn't be worth very much, said Tom Fanelle, 60, owner of R. Fanelle's Sons, a scrap yard in Camden.

"The ones that are steel, they're really not that valuable. Maybe $5 for a shopping cart. But if somebody pulled in here with 30 shopping carts, they better have some ID and some reason for where they came from," Fanelle said. "That's a red flag. . . . It's a lot of trouble for a little bit of money."

The other recent Mount Laurel thefts would be less obvious: nine copper grounding plates taken from two cellphone towers sometime in April.

An AT&T employee reported the thefts, which occurred at sites surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. Seven plates, about two feet by six inches and a half-inch thick, were taken from the tower on Elbo Lane. Each was worth about $700.

Two other plates, each worth $1,000, were taken from a tower on Wave Road.

Wiring at the two towers was damaged at an estimated cost of $2,500, police said.

Thefts for scrap metal are relatively rare in Mount Laurel, Modugno said.

"We do experience a fair amount of burglaries, thefts, just like any other town. Our [crime] numbers are generally low compared to other towns with comparable populations," he said, but the thefts of air-conditioning systems, manhole covers, or catalytic converters that have plagued other communities have been rare.

"We had some previously, but nothing recent," he said. "Truck batteries seem to be another hot item ... but we haven't had any of those recently."

Fanelle said he had advocated for a system by which police could send notices to scrap companies to be aware of recent thefts and where those companies could have a hotline to check on suspicious shipments.

"A lot of us would cooperate," Fanelle said. "Most of the yards, most of the guys, are up front and honest. We don't want to get involved with this stuff. We could thwart it."

Contact Jonathan Lai

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