Could face up to 30 years in prison
Arrested former field superintendent being investigated for additional copper thefts
November 5, 2008 - A former Florida field superintendent and his associate were arrested for stealing copper from a Metro PCS cell site on October 25. The carrier hopes this might end a rash of copper thefts plaguing the Orlando market.
Both men could be the first people to be tried under Florida's new law to combat copper theft that makes it a first degree felony.
Detective John Marshall of the Sumter County Sheriff's office said that Jared Hunt and Alex Riairas were arrested by Sheriff's Deputy Jason Adkison as the men were leaving a cell site in Wildwood with copper that they had stripped from Metro PCS's equipment early Saturday morning.
Hunt claims it was his only theft
Hunt told authorities that this was the first time he had broken into a cell site and taken anything. Marshall, however, believes that the 25-year-old man might have had an ongoing illegal enterprise and is asking other carriers that have had losses in the I-75 and I-10 corridor to have their investigating officer contact the Sumter County Sheriff's office.
Marshall has also sent out law enforcement bulletins asking other agencies to identify any similarities in the methods used for entering the compound and removing the copper.
Riairas said he was just a passenger in Hunt's vehicle, was not involved in the theft, and did not know what was going on. Both men were charged with criminal mischief, grand theft and trespassing at the SBA-owned tower location. Marshall anticipates that additional charges may be made against the men following his investigation.
This was Metro PCS's 46th copper theft. According to project director Hal Hodges, it has been a long time suspicion of Metro PCS management that someone from inside the industry was responsible for most of the thefts. He believes that there may be a larger group of people associated with Hunt.
He said that Metro PCS was requesting prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
Hunt, who reportedly used a combination of one of the gate locks, had been hired in 2002 by Dynamic South, Inc. of Saint James City. Vice President Glenn Green said Hunt had worked his way up to become one of the general contractor's field superintendents, but was recently demoted to working as a crew member for the company that employs approximately 30 field personnel.
His job performance required Dynamic South to terminate his employment two days prior to the alleged theft, Green said.
In an email to contractors and management, Hodges said, "It has always been my experience with Dynamic South that they conducted themselves with the highest degree of morality and ethics."
Fed bill could cut copper thefts
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar filed the Copper Theft Prevention Act of 2008 last month. It's aimed at making it harder for copper thieves to profit from their crime by making it harder for them to sell stolen metal to scrap dealers.
Under the act's provisions, scrap metal dealers would:
*Have to keep records of copper transactions, including the driver's license or other I.D. number of the seller
*Keep those records for a minimum of a year, and assist the prosecution of thieves
*Pay with a check instead of cash for transactions worth more than $250
*Face penalties of up to $10,000 for violations
New Florida law increases penalties for Hunt and Riairas
Many tower owners and tenants think that if the feds have any role at all to play, they believe it's in beefing up the punishments in store for thieves who are caught. States are taking a proactive role in meeting that goal.
In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist approved a bill that became effective October 1st that makes it a felony of the first degree to knowingly and intentionally take copper or other nonferrous metal from a utility or communications services provider, causing damage to the facilities of a utility or communications services provider or interrupting or interfering with utility or communications services.
The maximum penalty both men will be facing is 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Wind power turbines provide new opportunities
Tower owners have been targeted for many years along with utility companies, however, the newest target of opportunity is fast becoming wind turbines because of the available on site copper as well as the typically rural location that is not frequently patrolled by authorities.
Last month in Grand Meadow, MN, thieves cut electrical lines from inside the tower which had $5,000 to $10,000 in damage, according to the Mower County Sheriff's office.