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Happy Couple Steals Copper Wire to Finance Wedding

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You've been laid off from your job -- but you're getting married in a week. What to do? Strip the copper wiring from a whole bunch of utility poles in your neighborhood and try to unload it before the big day, what else?

According to Pennsylvania's Beaver County Times, 24 year-old April C. Cater and 23 year-old fiance Joseph Russell, who told police he had lost his job at an auto parts store, "cut copper wire valued at $7,146 from 18 utility poles" in an attempt to raise enough money for their August 13 wedding.

From the Times:

Cater was the driver and, accompanied by Russell, used her name to sell the copper wire at Allegheny Raw Materials in Franklin Township, according to police. Company officials gave police video of Cater and Russell and their vehicle from Aug. 10.

Cater told police she followed a route that included Mercer Road, Overlook Drive, Foster Road, Glendale Road, Concord Church Road, Barrisville Road, Harpers Ferry Road, Czar Road, Collins Road, Edgewood Road and Bennetts Run Road in North Sewickley, according to police.

After officers reported the route, PennPower officials inspected the area and found transformer ground wires from 18 utility poles had been cut and that each pole would cost $397 to repair.

With prices at $7,403 a tonne, copper isn't a bad choice for the financially struggling thief. But Dan Dan Burges, senior director of intelligence at logistics security firm FreightWatch International, says there's no limit to what people will rip off these days.

“When you see more thefts occurring during a recession, it’s not because regular, everyday people all of a sudden turn into criminals,” Burges told me recently. “It’s because during a recession, people are more prone to look for better deals.”

And it isn't only iPods, Xboxes, and tractor trailers of Budweiser going missing. Burges says a ready market in a tight economy equals a reason to steal truckloads of toilet paper and plastic utensils, as Juan J. Hernandez and William Chaban were accused of doing by Elwood, Illinois police.

Hernandez, who worked as an “inventory control specialist” at an Elwood Georgia-Pacific warehouse – along with accomplice William Chaban, who was awaiting trial for murdering his mother-in-law at the time -- managed to steal $60,000 worth of merchandise most people wouldn’t think to rip off in the first place.

“Walk through your house from front to back -- everything you see in your home, someone would steal,” Burges explained. “Stolen toilet seats? Consumers create the market. If someone can buy it cheaper, they will.”

“It’s a matter of supply-and-demand -- not only from the consumer side, but also regarding the availability to a thief,” Burges said. “This guy had access to toilet paper and plastic forks, so that’s what was available to him. I would argue that if the same facility was moving cellphones, he would’ve been stealing cellphones.”

The breadth of goods stolen in any given year is remarkable, said Burges, before running down a list of FreightWatch’s “greatest hits.”

“There was a truck full of sand stolen in Oklahoma in ’07, a load of earplugs, five thousand dollars worth of alfalfa hay, plastic cups, a trailer hauling lard,” he recalled. “Then, there was the time someone stole an entire load of empty juice bottles.”

Burges believes these types of events fall into the “opportunistic” toilet paper/plastic fork category.

“I don’t think anyone was out looking specifically for empty juice bottles,” he noted. “But, opportunity presented itself and they took it.”

As for April and Joseph, well, they may not have an extra seven grand with which to finance their wedding, but they do have each other.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania prisons don't allow conjugal visits.

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