Four suspected copper thieves have been charged with multiple felonies after doing more than $1.5 million in damage to a Utah County mine.
The charges filed against them in 4th District Court on Wednesday include burglary, theft by deception, criminal mischief and a pattern of unlawful activity, and most of the charges are felonies. Three of them face multiple first-degree felonies, which carry a potential sentence of up to life.
From last Christmas Eve to Oct. 25, at least three of the suspects went several times to Trixie Mine — a gold, silver and copper mine several miles east of Eureka — and worked together to steal copper wire and cable, according to the charges.
During the same months, the suspects would sell the stolen wire to various recyclers in Utah County and used the ill-gotten cash to further their scheme, the charges add.
But the profits from selling stolen metal tend to pale in comparison to the cost of repairing the damage, and Trixie Mine is no exception.
“What they did up on that mine, you’re talking well over a half a million dollars [in damage],” said Adren Underwood, the property manager. Besides the damage and loss of property, the thefts have caused significant delays in their operations. “It makes you sick.”
The thieves arrived at night and hit the substations, the machinery and even copper wire that runs several hundred feet down the mining shaft, Underwood said. The mining employees found the same footprints every time, he added.
Investigators had the names of a couple of suspects from a previous report, and by October were able to connect tire tracks and foot prints at the crime scene to a vehicle at the home of those suspects in Provo, according to a Utah County Sheriff’s news release. Investigators obtained a warrant and searched the home and a van, finding property that they believed to have been taken from the Trixie Mine, the release adds.
Investigators also allegedly found marijuana and methamphetamine during the search, according to the release.
Officers booked three of the four suspects into Utah County jail last week. The fourth person named in the charges is only known by a first name and has not been arrested, said Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
Investigators are also looking into whether these suspects are responsible for any other metal thefts, Cannon said. The sheriff’s office anticipates to make more arrests and file more charges against these, and other, suspects.
While Underwood acknowledges that metal recyclers are only doing their jobs, he expressed frustration that they can buy stolen metal without the sale sending up more red flags for the investigators.
Salt Lake City police Detective Mike Millard, a metal-theft investigator, wants to change that. The detective is trying to get legislators on board for a bill that would require metal recyclers to get on the same system as pawn shops — one that tracks sellers no matter where they go in the state, making suspicious sellers easier to spot.