FBI: Stolen copper gang cuts its way to prison

FBI says band of seven men sold stolen utility copper for more than $15,000

You don't hear about this often enough - the FBI today said the last in a group of seven men was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to steal copper from two dozen First Energy Corp. and or Cleveland Public Power substations in Northeast Ohio.

The FBI said that the group of seven men took part in 25 copper thefts and five attempted thefts between January and May 2013. Court documents also list 53 instances where at least some of the defendants sold stolen copper to area scrap yards between January and April 2013. The defendants collectively sold the stolen copper for more than $15,000. They have collectively been ordered to pay $242,626 to First Energy Corp. for the cost of repairs to the substations.

+More on Network World: Copper thefts measured in miles around Seattle+

The FBI said that he 24 substations listed in the indictment have copper material around their bases that facilitated the transmission of electricity. Removal of the copper material from a substation causes a substantial risk of electrical blackouts, as well as possible injury or death to utility company employees responsible for maintaining, servicing, and repairing the substations, according to court documents.

The defendants used bolt cutters to cut fencing and/or locks protecting the substations, according to court records.  The defendants then unlawfully extracted the copper wire and materials from the substations, manually carrying it in garbage cans, duffel bags, contractor bags and other containers to "staging areas." From there, the copper material was transported to scrap yards, where it was sold for cash, according to court documents.

"These sentences should send a message that the theft of copper and other scrap metal is a serious problem in our region, and the targeting of energy facilities additionally poses a significant threat to our national security infrastructure," said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in a statement.

Michael T. Butts , 33, was the last of a group of seven to be sentenced and was also ordered to pay more than $242,626 in restitution to First Energy Corp. by U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson.  Previously sentenced were:

  • William Bertini, 26, of Olmsted Falls, to two years in prison
  • Christopher M. Butts, 27, of Cleveland, to four years and seven months in prison
  • Jason B. Kauffman, 35, of Cleveland, to three years and one month in prison
  • Julio Torres, 46, of Cleveland, to two year and three months in prison
  • Jon T. Lefort, 26, of Cleveland, to one year and three months in prison
  • Keven Wenson, 22, of Lakewood, to two years of supervised release

The FBI said that Christopher and Michael Butts showed the others how to cut and remove the copper without frying themselves. 

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