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Arrest made in April copper wire theft case

September 03, 2008
Good detective work and perseverance by an Indiana State Trooper paid off recently when a Paoli man was taken into custody, charged with the theft of copper wire from a Duke Energy facility near Milltown.

Leland W. Gilbert
In mid-April, Trooper Charles Pirtle was contacted by Duke Energy about the theft of numerous rolls of copper wire from the company's site on old S.R. 64, just outside Milltown. The break-in was filmed by a hidden security camera, but Pirtle still couldn't make a positive identification because the pictures didn't reveal anyone with whom the officer was familiar.

Pirtle went to work on the case, showing the pictures to other law enforcement officers with the hope that someone would recognize the perpetrators. At the same time, he began checking places where the wire may be sold.

"This case took a lot of work," Pirtle said. "I visited several recycling places in Southern Indiana and checked their records. They were all cooperative and more than glad to help. When anyone brings items in to sell, the recycling businesses are required to check and make a copy of the seller's identification and make a list of what is bought. Some places also film the transaction, and some of them, if the merchandise seems suspicious, will set it back in the warehouse for a while in case the police may want to check it."

Pirtle continued to track leads in the case for two or three weeks. Finally, he checked recycling businesses in Kentucky and hit pay dirt. One of the places had bought the wire and had an identification of the person who sold it.

In the meantime, Pirtle kept showing the pictures to other officers and, finally, an officer on the Paoli police force recognized a man in one of the pictures.

Armed with the identification and other evidence he had collected, Pirtle went to the Crawford County prosecutor, who reviewed the case and, through the Crawford County Circuit Court, issued an arrest warrant for Leland W. Gilbert, 45, of Paoli.

On Thursday, Aug. 7, a police officer in Seymour made a routine traffic stop of a pick-up truck. According to the Seymour Police Department, a check revealed that the vehicle was stolen from Frankfort, Ky., and had stolen license plates. It was also discovered that the driver, Gilbert, was wanted on warrants in Crawford County. Gilbert was placed under arrest and transported to the Jackson County Jail. On Aug. 21, he was transferred to the Crawford County Jail, where he is facing charges of theft, a Class B felony; criminal trespassing, a Class A misdemeanor; and criminal mischief, a Class B misdemeanor.

"He is also facing several criminal counts in Kentucky," Pirtle said. "We are still looking for a second individual who was involved. And we're also looking for another vehicle. The vehicle Gilbert was driving when he was arrested was not the vehicle used during the break-in. So, there's another vehicle somewhere.

"Copper theft, and the theft of other recyclable, is a big problem right now. Radiators, aluminum and even the catalytic converters on automobiles are prime targets for thieves. Electric companies are taking more precautions now. And, hopefully, the new law that requires salvage material dealers to keep record books and prohibits metal dealers from purchasing or otherwise obtaining architectural salvage materials from a person under 18 or if the dealer believes the material is stolen property acquired as a result of a crime will help bring these thieves to justice.

"And the general public can help, also. Everyone should always be aware of their surroundings. If you see something suspicious, give us a call and we'll check it out."

Angeline Protogere, a spokesperson with Duke Energy, said the theft of copper wire is becoming an increasing problem for the company.

"The theft of copper wire is not only costly for the company and the customers, but highly dangerous," she said. "Getting close to high voltage can cause serious injury and even death. But as soon as commodity prices goes up on metals like copper, we see an increase in theft. We encourage anyone who witnesses suspicious activity to contact law enforcement and us. We depend on the public to be our eyes."

Anyone with information on thefts like this one are encouraged to call the Indiana State Police at 1-800-742-7475 or 1-812-482-1441.

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Barbara Shaw
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