Pile of scrap metal at the recycling yard.
Some scrap metal at the CalTrans yard.
This is a page from the CalTrans supervisor manual about salvage materials
Some scrap metal at the CalTrans yard.
Money from the sale of truckloads of scrap metal that should have gone to the state instead went into the pocket of a former CalTrans supervisor, a News10 investigation has found.
"This has been going on for years and I just got caught doing it," former CalTrans Whitmore Yard Supervisor Steve Elkinton said.
CalTrans gathers and recycles scrap metal along highways, leftover from road projects and recovered from its own maintenance yards. It then stores the metal in large metal bins provided by a recycler that has a contract with the state.
"The vendor then comes and collects it, weighs it and the state is reimbursed the money," CalTrans spokesperson Rochelle Jenkins said. "It's a substantial amount of money."
But Elkinton told News10 that he used CalTrans trucks and workers to haul the metal into Nevada and sell it to a recycler in Reno.
"It was over a period of four years," he said, adding that he did not believe the metal would be used to generate revenue for the state.
"The metal was earmarked for the Roseville dump, and all I did was take the metal and sell it myself. CalTrans was never going to get any money," he said.
Scrap metal has become a hot commodity as prices for steel, aluminum, copper and other alloys have continued to rise. Jenkins told News10 the state recycles millions of dollars worth of scrap materials every year. She said in one small portion of CalTrans Region 3, an area along Interstate 80 stretching about 40 miles from the Nevada border toward Sacramento, workers collect and recycled about $50,000 worth of scrap metal in 2012.
As the costs have risen the agency has had trouble with thieves.
"We have had some issues of metal theft, from just general people, and it has cost the state a lot of money," Jenkins said.
Normally the thefts occur when someone goes into a CalTrans facility, many of which are open, and steals the scrap metal from large metal containers. Sometimes they even take as much as a pickup load full of metal.
Elkinton said the metal he sold in Reno was scrap that he picked up on the road.
"You know how many cars almost hit me when I was working out there?" Elkinton said. "It's not like we had brand new guard rails that we had there and we were taking and recycling."
He also said he wasn't the only CalTrans employee selling scrap metal.
"Nobody else was getting into trouble. I didn't think it was a big deal," Elkinton said.
He said he became a "fall guy" after a whistleblower reported what he was doing, and that CalTrans later rewrote a portion of its policy manual addressing recyclable metal.
CalTrans policy manual on recycling states that, "State law and Caltrans policies prohibit employees from taking possession of junk, scrap, or trash to be sold or disposed of by the State. Employees violating these State laws or Caltrans policies are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal."
CalTrans says Elkinton and every supervisor in his former position received the manual.
California Highway Patrol Investigates
Elkinton said he's now remorseful and that as a former supervisor, he takes full responsibility for the other workers involved.
"Once they started investigating I started thinking, man, what did I do?"
Earlier this year the Placer County District Attorney's office charged Elkinton with grand theft. The charging affidavit stated Elkinton took "money, which belongs to CalTrans."
Elkinton told News10 he was charged with taking the scrap metal money for about nine months between September 2011 and June 2012. Later, in the phone interview, he admitted it went on for four years.
He will appear in Placer County Superior Court on Jan. 9.
CalTrans, CHP, the Place County District Attorney's office and the metal recycler all declined to comment on Elkinton's remarks.
CalTrans maintains that it was an isolated incident, but a state audit shows a supervisor in Lassen County got into trouble for using CalTrans metal, trucks and employees for his own benefit.
Auditors said two CalTrans technicians used "state-owned materials" and installed "a metal gate on his property."
Elkinton and CalTrans Part Ways
Elkinton, 51, said he started working for CalTrans 19 years ago. He told News10 he retired early and his pension has been cut by $800 as a result.
"I wish I could go back and do things over again, but I can't," Elkinton said.
CalTrans says Elkinton is just a disgruntled former employee trying to tarnish the agency's good name.
"Any time anything is done to damage that image it's kind of heartbreaking," Jenkins said.