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Prison for stealing alloy from steel mill

November 19, 2018

HAMMOND – A Porter man will spend 15 months in federal prison and must pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution after pleading guilty to his role in a scheme to steal a valuable metal alloy from the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Burns Harbor.

Robert Watkins, 32, was sentenced on Oct. 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Jon E. DeGuilio to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,291,030 in restitution to Arcelor Mittal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. He must also serve one year of supervised release.

Watkins pleaded guilty in July to three counts of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property.

Ryan Hendrickson, Christopher Forster and Watkins were charged with stealing Ferro Columbium from ArcelorMittal and transporting the alloy across state lines to sell for profit, according to federal prosecutors.

Columbium (or niobium) is an element used to enhance the strength of the steel, and is commonly used in high-grade structural steel and steel for the auto industry

According to court documents, Hendrickson, was employed by ArcelorMittal in Burns Harbor as a mechanic and welder, working all over the mill property.

Hendrickson told Forster about the alloy, and Watkins and Forester committed the thefts. On three occasions between September 2013 and March 2014, they stole and transported the metal alloy across state lines to sell in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to court documents. The total loss amount from the three thefts was $1,291,030.

Hendrickson was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay restitution of $123,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Forster is awaiting sentencing.

This case was investigated by the FBI GRIT Task Force.

—From staff reports

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