EAST MILLINOCKET – Eight people have been arrested in connection with the theft of as much as $400,000 in copper wire from businesses from Lincoln to Island Falls over the last three months, police said Friday.
In what could be the largest ring of copper thieves and the biggest seizures of stolen copper yet found in the state, as many as a dozen suspects, including two juveniles, might face charges for stealing copper wire spools, welding rods and tools, and ground rods from businesses, hospitals, telephone companies and town governments, police Chief Garold Cramp said.
“Copper is worth something like $2 a pound so it doesn’t take that much to accumulate a lot of value in what is stolen. It’s hard to believe how fast copper adds up,” Cramp said Friday.
“The thing that’s killing everybody is the replacement value. It fluctuates. If you have to replace what’s stolen and it takes two months, the value of it might have gone up $2,000 in that time,” he added.
Confidential informants, confessions and other evidence have led police to possible or actual thefts in East Millinocket, Island Falls, Lincoln, Medway and Millinocket, Cramp said. Police are working with Maine state troopers, Aroostook County sheriffs and police in Lincoln and Millinocket and querying other agencies because they suspect more thefts have occurred that have only just been reported or have not yet been discovered.
“A lot of this theft goes undetected because the companies that are hit are so big,” Cramp said. “It takes them awhile to even notice that the wire is gone.”
Anyone with information about copper wire thefts is asked to call police at 746-3555. All calls will be kept confidential.
Since late Wednesday, five suspects have been charged with theft by unauthorized taking or transfer. They are Richie Day, 21, of Medway; Paul York, 21, of East Millinocket; Michael Martin, 19, of Mattawamkeag; Jerry York, 41, of Medway; and Travis McMoran, 22, of Mattawamkeag. Police believe the Yorks are cousins.
Three others have been charged with receiving stolen property. They are Nichole Voisine, 19, of East Millinocket; Jon Ladd, 24, of Medway; and Ricky Ladd, 20, of Medway.
Police will seek grand jury indictments and possibly additional charges against the suspects, two juveniles and possibly two more adults in November, Cramp said. All are due in District Court in Millinocket on Dec. 6.
Investigators believe the suspects were crudely breaking into sheds, workshops and storage areas to steal the copper, then fencing it to recycling centers where copper scraps can draw big money, said Officer David Cram, one of the investigators.
“Some of this stuff was in a shed somewhere,” Cram said. “Not a lot of planning went into it. These are largely crimes of convenience.”
For East Millinocket police, the investigation began about a month ago with the reported theft of about $46,000 in copper wire spools from Gilman Electrical Supply Co. on Medway Road in Medway, Cramp said.
That investigation led to the recovery a few weeks ago of about 150 pounds of copper wire worth as much as $85,000 gradually taken from the Katahdin Paper Co. mill in East Millinocket over a month or more ago, Cramp said.
These, in turn, led to the discovery of wire taken about three months ago from the town’s Hathaway Farm pump station, the theft of $8,000 to $9,000 worth of welding rods and jacks from Roland Sirious Industrial Co., and $20,000 to $24,000 in copper stolen from Day’s Welding Co. of Medway about two months ago, Cramp said.
Another theft of an undetermined amount of copper from Millinocket Regional Hospital also was found. Two thefts of copper, possibly from a utility company, also were reported from Lincoln, a telephone company in Island Falls and two local trucking companies, Cramp said. Lincoln police did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday night.
Officer Andy York, Sgt. Michael Davis, Cram, Cramp and part-time Officer Cameron McDonough are still sorting through reports and recovered evidence, he said.
“The guys have done a really great job on this, a lot of leg work,” Cramp said. “Most of the time investigating this they have donated because they like what they do.”