Seven indicted in copper theft ring - 19 Action News|Cleveland, OH|News, Weather, Sports

Seven indicted in copper theft ring

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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

Seven people were indicted in federal court for their roles in a conspiracy to steal copper from two dozen different substations in Northeast Ohio owned by First Energy or Cleveland Public Power, said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cleveland office.

"These defendants risked the safety of utility workers and the well-being of people served by these substations," Dettelbach said. "This is a far cry from vandalism or simple theft. The targeting of energy facilities poses a significant threat to our critical infrastructure. The theft of copper and other scrap metal is a serious problem and will not be tolerated."

"These defendants chose to enrich themselves while risking lives and posing serious threats to our community," Anthony said. "The FBI and our law enforcement partners will aggressively pursue and bring to justice those individuals who threaten our critical infrastructure."

Indicted are: Christopher M. Butts, 26, of Cleveland; Michael T. Butts, 33, of Brooklyn; Jon T. Lefort, 25, of Cleveland; William Bertini, 25, of Olmsted Township; Jason B. Kauffman, 34, address unknown; Keven Wenson, 22, of Lakewood, and Julio Torres, 45, address unknown.

The thefts took place between January and May 2013 and included substations in Brooklyn, Parma, Brecksville, Fairlawn, Medina, Cleveland, Wadsworth, Lakewood, Cuyahoga Heights, Independence, Vermillion, Lorain, Avon Lake, Westlake and Valley View, according to the indictment.

The 24 substations listed in the indictment have copper material around its base 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 the indictment.

According to the indictment, Christopher and Michael Butts instructed Lefort, Bertini, Kauffman, Wenson and Torres how to remove the copper material from the substation in a way that would minimize the risk of physical harm to the person cutting the wire or cable. The defendants used bolt cutters to cut fencing and/or locks protecting the substations.

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 the indictment.

The indictment details 25 copper thefts and five attempted thefts. It also lists 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, although repairs to the substations will likely cost more than $100,000, according to the indictment.

Count 1 charges all seven defendants with conspiracy to damage energy facilities. Counts 2 through 6 charge specific individuals with destruction of an energy facility, in violation of a federal statute specifically directed at protecting facilities that produce, distribute and store energy, such as electrical substations.

This prosecution is part of an on-going effort to focus on the damage to critical infrastructure that is caused by the theft of scrap metal. Earlier this year, representatives of approximately 20 federal, state, local law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors' offices attended a conference hosted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center, and the Cleveland Clinic addressing best practices to target these theft rings.

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