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Two charged in copper wire thefts

Copper
Mar. 14, 2013 @ 11:24 PM

IRONTON -- Bond was set at $75,000 Thursday for two Pedro, Ohio, area men charged with stealing telephone wire valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars and then selling the copper in the wire for pennies on the dollar at scrap metal businesses across the Tri-State.

Detectives with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office this week arrested Brian K. Bloomfield, 34, and Randy L. DePriest Jr., 30, both of Private Drive 2173, Pedro. The two were each charged with 15 counts of disrupting public service and 15 counts of tampering with evidence.

The suspects are said to have gone to rural, wooded areas where they would pull down the telephone wire, cut it, and then transport it to an area where they would burn the insulation and coating from the copper wire and take it to scrap metal yards in Cabell County in West Virginia, Boyd County in Kentucky and Scioto and Jackson counties in Ohio, Sheriff Jeff Lawless said.

The two told detectives they stole the wire in various parts of Lawrence County on 80 occasions since June 2012, Lawless said. In the past 10 months, AT&T reported several outages. When service workers arrived, they would find that between 50 and 1,200 feet of telephone wire was missing, Lawless said.

"It is estimated that the cost of this damage and theft will range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to all that have been victimized," Lawless said. "The scrapping of this metal paid pennies on the dollars as to what the original cost of the wire is and what it will cost to repair it."

"These thefts caused numerous telephone and Internet outages for the residents and businesses throughout these areas," Lawless said. "These disruptions left these residents with no way to communicate or the ability to contact emergency services should they have an emergency, as most of these areas do not have cellphone coverage."

The investigation took several months because authorities had little to go on, Lawless said.

New state laws requiring the identities of those scrapping certain metals led to a break in the case, Lawless said. "We were able to match it up," he said.

"This investigation is ongoing, and we expect to add additional charges to these suspects as well as make additional arrests of other individuals," Lawless said.

Ironton Municipal Judge O. Clark Collins set a preliminary hearing for the two at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 21. Collins appointed Roger Smith, a Huntington lawyer, to represent Bloomfield and Gene Meadows, a Portsmouth lawyer, to represent DePriest.

AT&T has invested more than $1.5 billion in its Ohio wireless and wireline networks from 2010 through 2012. The company intends to "aggressively pursue those whose thefts impact our networks and service," B.J. Smith, AT&T external affairs director for southeast Ohio, said in a prepared release. "We will continue to coordinate with law enforcement agencies here in Lawrence County and across the country as they work to stop these dangerous and costly crimes."

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