Copper theft is a costly and labor-intensive crime that happens in our communities, so we talk a lot about copper theft prevention strategies at government properties and businesses. Typically, it seems like most of the offenders escape arrest, so it’s always nice when copper criminals are brought to justice as we see in the article below.
Copper theft may seem like a victimless crime, but often the entire community becomes the victim as taxpayers cover the cost of replacing the wires in critical pieces of infrastructure. Earlier this afternoon, the King County Prosecutor announced that two suspects from the largest copper theft ring in the state of Washington have been charged.
Read the full story below:
Charges Filed in Copper Wire Theft: King County Prosecutors have charged two men with what prosecutors believe to be the largest known metal theft in Washington State for stealing approximately 4.3 miles of copper wiring from the Sound Transit Light Rail System. Defendants Donald Howard Turpin, 54, and Lee Russell Skelly, 44, are accused of stealing the wire from November 2010 through August of 2011. Both men are charged with Burglary Second Degree and Trafficking in Stolen Property First Degree. Turpin is also charged with Theft First Degree with a special sentencing aggravator.
The defendants allegedly committed the theft by entering maintenance hatches in a tunnel that runs below the light rail between the SeaTac and Rainer Beach Rail Stations. They would enter at night and remove the copper wire, which is designed to ground “stray voltage” in the track system, by using standard bolt cutters. They allegedly dropped the wire through air vents and then drove along the line, picking up the cut wire at various locations. Detectives believe that the theft occurred over several months, with the defendants working through the night to cut and strip the wire. Evidence gathered by King County Sheriff’s Detectives shows that the men allegedly took the wire to various scrap metal recycling businesses in King County and sold the metal. The investigation focused on Turpin after detectives found DNA evidence on items in the tunnel. Turpin made approximately $39,000 in profit while Skelly received over $4000. Turpin had a state issued business license which would allow him to scrap the metal with little if any scrutiny by the scrap metal buyers. The replacement cost of the 70,000 pounds of copper wire is estimated at $1.3 million so far.
King County Prosecutors worked this year on a statewide metal theft taskforce to help pass House Bill 1552, which creates new requirements for scrap metal buyers to document their purchases from would be sellers. Those requirements include either video taping the sale or taking copies of the seller’s valid identification. The new law also increases penalties for selling stolen scrap metal. It will go into effect in July but will not impact the thefts committed by Turpin and Skelly.
“This crime shows the astounding lengths that some criminals will go to take what isn’t theirs,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “The defendants in this case literally stripped away at our public transportation infrastructure," he added. “Stealing miles of copper wire must be hard work, because it was the defendants’ Gatorade bottles left at the scene which ultimately was their undoing,” Satterberg added. Arraignment is scheduled for June 27 at 8:30 a.m. at the King County Courthouse. Both defendants are currently at large. If convicted as charged, the sentence range for Turpin is 63 to 84 months in prison. Skelly faces up to one year in jail. Prosecutors wish to thank Detectives JD Williams and Paula Bates for their hard work on this case.
Hopefully the prosecution serves as a deterrent and aids in copper theft prevention.