Last fall, a "loosely associated" group of eight thieves ripped copper wire from PECO substations across Bucks County, causing a total of $175,000 in losses and damages, police said.
They pilfered what's known as "grounding wire," which is used to help control voltage, and then allegedly sold it for about $3 a pound to a scrap yard in Philadelphia, police said.
The cases against the alleged burglars are now beginning to make their way through the justice system. Four of them are facing trial after waiving their right to a preliminary hearing this morning. Preliminary heairngs are scheduled next week for the remaining four.
Police had created a region-wide task force to catch the alleged copper bandits after more than a dozen substations were burglarized in Bensalem, Bristol Township, Falls, Middletown and Newtown Township. The ring began to unravel after cops caught one of them at a Bristol Township substation, court records stated.
Copper theft isn’t new. In fact it had declined along with the metal's price in 2009 during the most recent recession, according to a 2010 report from the Department of Energy. But the thefts increased in 2010 as copper's price rebounded.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau released a report in May that showed a 36 percent spike in metal thefts - almost all of it copper - between 2009 and 2012.
The non-profit Electic Safety Foundation International estimated that copper thefts cost utilities $60 million in 2009. And Nick Braden, a spokesman for the American Public Power Association, said the cost has caused some utilities to raise their rates.
Liz Williamson, a PECO spokeswoman, said that anyone considering stealing copper from a substation should worry about getting electrocuted from tampering with the grounding wires — not to mention getting arrested. Such thefts can also put PECO workers' lives in danger, she said.
The alleged ring was composed of William Earl Bruck, Jr, David Hoffner III, Jasson Pallis, Christopher Weldon, Taylor Homan, all of Bristol Township; and Brent Leone of Middletown and Jamie Brown of Falls.
Felony chargesfiled in the cases include burglary, criminal trespassing and receiving stolen property.