Authorities say that five individuals, including a Maxton man and Laurel Hill woman, face charges in the theft of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of copper throughout the state.
The group is based in Scotland and Robeson counties, and its members face a total of 168 charges related to the thefts in Scotland County, with more charges pending from other agencies, according to Lt. Jonathan Edwards of the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office.
The group, led by Joshua Jones of Lumberton, also includes Tony Laws of Fairmont, Justin Hunt of Maxton, Charisma Tew of Laurel Hill, and Michael Locklear of Laurel Hill. All but Locklear were arrested in the last 10 days, facing charges including larceny, conspiracy, injury to utility wire, and injury to property.
The Moore County Sheriff’s Office, Southern Pines Police Department, Anson County Sheriff’s Department, and Robeson County Sheriff’s Department provided assistance in the investigation, which began when the group first came to the attention of local authorities nine months ago. The case has been slow to develop due to the generic nature of metals, which carry no serial number or other identifying characteristics.
“It takes time because copper is not a distinguishable thing - you have to find out where they stole it from, who the victim was, and where they’re selling it,” Edwards said. “A lot of it comes from information from the public, having a relationship with the scrapyards about who’s selling the copper.”
The victims are primarily power companies, including Progress Energy and Pee Dee Electric, as the suspects primarily dismantled power lines in order to remove the copper wiring.
“They would just go out into rural locations or even off of four-lane highways cutting as long strands of copper as they could get,” Edwards said.
According to Edwards, the group was active several times per week, reaping $3,000 to $4,000 worth of copper in a night. The value of the copper stolen, however, is usually a fraction of what power companies spend to repair the damage.
“It’s big money for the energy companies, it really is,” Edwards said. “Some combination of that group would go out just about every night of the week.”
Charges by the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, Southern Pines Police Department, Anson County Sheriff’s Department, Harnett County Sheriff’s Department, and Florence, S.C. Police Department are pending, with investigation continuing into the group’s activities in Raleigh, Wilson, and Goldsboro.