It seemed for a while that copper thefts in South Florida may have tapered off.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that at the bottom of the housing market, after the bubble burst, the real estate landscape was littered with vacant homes, many of which were left abandoned and unsecured, leaving them vulnerable to copper mining. This was exacerbated by the fact that the price of copper began to soar, starting in 2004.
The problem was universal across the country, as evidenced by a 2010 report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, which had detailed legislative and law enforcement measures taken to curb the problem.
But it was particularly bad in Florida, which was central to the housing market crisis.
It has trended downward in the last several years, as the price of copper has also declined, as has the wealth of opportunity with fewer vacant, unsecured homes to which potential thieves have access.
However, a recent incident out of Davie illustrates the practice isn’t dead.
According to the Sun Sentinel, a 52-year-old man was arrested on charges of burglary, grand theft and battery, as well as several other unrelated charges.
The incident occurred at an electric company, where the defendant used to be employed.
The company owner said there had been three prior break-ins at the site within the past 30 days. He suspected a former employee was involved, but he had no proof.
So on a recent Monday night, he decided to stay on the property overnight, to see if he could catch the responsible parties.
The owner said he was awakened around 3:30 a.m. to the sound of someone hopping over the fence. He noted the suspect’s pickup truck outside the lot, and he quickly ran over and punctured the tires so that the individual would not be able to escape.
A few moments later, the owner said he saw the defendant attempting to climb over the fence with a large spool of copper wiring. The owner raced over to the edge of the fence and attempted to keep the defendant inside the yard by striking him with a stick through the holes of the fence. At one point, the defendant reportedly kicked the owner in the chest, causing him to fall to the ground.
The defendant did eventually make it to his vehicle. However, he soon was stranded, as his tires were flattened. Police arrived on the scene soon after and held him there until the owner of the company identified him.
The defendant gave a statement to the police, saying that while he had kicked the owner, he had never actually entered the yard.
Even at this point, it would appear the evidence favors the owner. Add to that then the fact that there was also surveillance video, which reportedly showed the defendant hopping the fence to the inside of the yard, grabbing a spool of copper wire from the back of the truck and tussling with the owner before he made it to his truck.
The video shows a man using some type of gray cloth to cover the lower portion of his face. A similar gray cloth was discovered in the back seat of the defendant’s truck.
That’s a heavy burden of proof for the defense to overcome, and it was likely made worse by the defendant giving a statement to police. We can not stress enough here in this blog how critical it is to practice your right to remain silent and request an attorney.
We don’t know the exact value of the copper taken in this case, but judging by the fact that he is charged with grand theft, we can assume that the property was worth at least $300. Typically, this is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
However, per Florida Statute 812.014, if the individual commits grand theft and also either uses a motor vehicle to assist in the offense and therefore damages the real property of another person or simply by virtue of the crime causes damage in excess of $1,000, he or she may then be charged with a first-degree felony. That is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.