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Copper theft ring busted in Berks, Montgomery counties

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Aug 20 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 22 2012 04:40:54 AM CDT

More than two years of copper thefts came to a shocking end in Exeter Township, officials said.

LOWER POTTSGROVE TWP., Pa. - -

A group of copper thieves targeting area substations for more than two years have recently been charged, said police.

The thefts throughout Berks and Montgomery counties have put police on high alert.

One of the men accused of taking part in the theft ring nearly died, and then he turned in his friends, said police.

Harris Wilkinson, 35; Heather Wilkinson, 29; Ronald Neuman, 42; and Christopher Schade, 30, are accused of ripping off copper from substations across the area.

Lower Pottsgrove Township police said the thefts around the Pottstown, Montgomery Co., area were bold and consistent, everything from their entry to the type of ground wire taken.

"When everything was looked at together, everything pointed and painted the same picture. That's how we ended up developing this investigation," said Sgt. Tim Walters, Lower Pottsgrove Twp. Police Dept.

The big break in the case came at a Met-Ed substation in Exeter Twp., Berks Co., last October, said police.

According to court documents, Harris Wilkinson was nearly electrocuted. A surge went through his body, leaving him disabled and hospitalized for months. Once he recovered, he turned on his partners in crime, including his wife, who he told investigators drove the getaway car.

"He led our investigators in a very detailed description through interviews, through statements and actually pointed out some of the theft locations," said Walters.

The bandits were out for an easy buck, fueling their drug habits by cashing in the copper at local scrap yards, said police.

According to court documents, Wilkinson hit 13 locations in Berks and at least five PECO/Exelon substations in Montgomery Co., including the station connected to the Limerick nuclear power plant.

"The wire they were taking could of had a very profound effect on the functions of the substations, as well as possible injuries to workers," said Walters.

Police have not released a total amount of copper taken or damaged. The group has been charged with felony burglary and related offenses, said investigators.