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Copper theft charges filed against Bentleyville man

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

A Bentleyville man allegedly stole copper wiring from at least 80 utility poles in the borough.

Cory Wayne Thomas George, 24, of 138 Pittsburgh Road had planned to sell the copper as scrap metal, according to Southwest Regional Police.

George was charged Wednesday with a felony count of criminal mischief and misdemeanor counts of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property.

The criminal mischief charge rose to a felony, because, “by law, when you interfere with delivery of public services, regardless of the dollar amount, it's a felony because of the inherent threat to society,” Southwest Regional Chief John Hartman said.

“The electricity goes to homes, police departments, hospitals … you're messing with public safety,” he added.

On July 16, Lt. Stephen Schwartz arrived at George's residence with a search warrant for an unrelated investigation and saw a piece of cut copper wiring with black casing on the front deck and a burnt wire casing on the back deck, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Schwartz also allegedly saw a large fire pit in the backyard that George is suspected of using to burn off casings.

George allegedly admitted to stealing approximately 6 feet of wire from each of 80 poles from June 27 through July 1 before selling it at Rittenour's Auto Wrecking in Ellsworth for $140.

Schwartz reportedly obtained sales receipts signed by George, along with surveillance video from the business.

One week earlier, a Bentleyville official reported that wire had been removed from nearly every pole in the borough.

“We've had a proliferation of incidents involving scrapping for awhile now in all of our areas,” Hartman said. “But you take scrapping to a new level when you start tearing things off of telephone poles.

“We've had people remove sewer grates and manhole covers, and those things relate to public safety.”

Hartman said the labor involved in removing the wire was significant.

“It invariably amazes us what skill sets are employed to perpetrate a crime like this,” Hartman said.

“We often comment that if they would've directed all those energies towards a legitimate end, society as a whole would be a lot better.”

In an unrelated case, George is awaiting a preliminary hearing on numerous drug charges in September before Magisterial District Judge Curtis Thompson of Ellsworth.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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