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Ring accused in operation to steal copper in Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette counties

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Monday, July 7, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

Nearly a dozen people have been implicated as participants in a ring of thieves who are accused of targeting large, vacant commercial buildings throughout Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette counties, stealing copper wiring and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

The stolen wire was taken to burn pits at a community park on the South Side Slopes and along railroad tracks in Baldwin Borough, where fires were set to burn off the insulation. The wire was cooled before being taken to metal companies in Pittsburgh, Carnegie and McKeesport for sale.

Not all of the thefts involved vacant structures.

According to information filed by investigators from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and Pittsburgh police in the criminal complaints:

Spools of wire, along with tools from four trucks, were taken in December from a West Penn Power Co. facility in Jeannette.

On at least five occasions, the thieves stole wire from wooden spools kept in unlocked storage containers on Port Authority of Allegheny County property along West Warrington Avenue on Mt. Washington. Lookouts, equipped with a portable radio system or walkie-talkies, were posted for the thefts.The thieves broke into the vacant Beltzhoover Elementary School in October but fled empty-handed when the burglar alarm activated.

Ring members are accused of stealing copper from the following vacant buildings: the Circuit City and Sears stores in Wilkins; Copperweld Factory in Glassport; Maxi-Saver Theater in West Mifflin; Levin Furniture store in Monroeville; the Ames building in the Laurel Mall near Connellsville; and the JCPenney store in Lower Burrell.

Ring members fled when police arrived on Dec. 21 at the vacant Westinghouse Printing Co. in Trafford, leaving behind two vehicles filled with copper. They later reported both vehicles stolen and then stole one of the vehicles, which was impounded at a Trafford garage, and drove it to a baseball field off Mission Street on the South Side Slopes where they burned it in an attempt to mislead investigators.

State court records on Monday show that charges have been filed against a number of suspected ring members but that not all have been taken into custody.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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