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Metal thefts on the rise

By Rosa Duarte, Reporter, RDuarte@wfmz.com
Published On: Sep 16 2013 09:03:39 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 17 2013 07:25:29 AM CDT

Metal thefts on the rise

A Wilson man is now in the process of working out a plea deal with prosecutors after being charged with stealing and scrapping dozens of semi trailers from the company he worked for.

ConAgra Mills, a company that makes flour products with locations throughout the United States, fell victim to an elaborate theft operation allegedly by one of its very own employees for over a year at its offices on Route 611 in Easton.

Investigators say from April 2012 until July of this year, 37-year-old Jason Smith of Wilson managed to steal 31 semi-trailers from the company and sold the aluminum as scrap metal with the help of 38-year-old Christopher Warnicke of Warren, New Jersey.

Monday, Smith waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his attorneys say he's working on a plea deal in his case.

Warnicke, is set for his preliminary hearing next week.

Meanwhile, PPL Electric Utilities has recently announced a new method to help find thieves.

In PPL's case, the issue involves those who steal copper from its substations and even construction sites.

"This has been the worst year for PPL for copper theft, we've had almost 50 break-ins to date in our facilities" said Matthew Green, director of Asset Management and Engineering.

Last year, the Allentown based company only had 36 thefts the entire year.

So now, PPL has announced a new reward program that will offer up to one thousand dollars for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of people who steal copper.

"The cost to repair a substation that's been broken into can be in access of 20 thousand dollars. The more significant issue is that they're really putting themselves and our crews in harm's way and ultimately it's the customers who are paying for the bill" said Green.

Lobbyists for PPL are also working in Washington and in Harrisburg to see if legislation can be passed that would involve stiffer penalties for metal theft.