PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the men accused of stealing live Consumers Energy electrical lines near Grand Junction was previously suspected of stealing copper wire, according to records from Michigan State Police, and has scrapped more than $115,200 in metal in less than a year.
24 Hour News 8 obtained the records Wednesday through the Freedom of Information Act.
MSP says that on Feb. 12, Cameron Smith, Troy Petersen and Dustin Wesche cut down telephone lines and a few hundred feet of live electrical lines that ran along CR-388 in Columbia Township and then stripped the copper from the line.
Records from MSP’s investigation show that shortly after the wires were stolen, Smith scrapped 118 pounds of copper at a Grand Rapids scrap yard and got $242 in return. Additionally, Peterson scrapped a total of 2,671 pounds of lead-coated copper wire and copper wire for nearly $1,867.
In addition, records from the same scrap yard show that between June 2014 and February 2015, Smith scrapped a total of 139,357 pounds of metal — mostly lead-coated copper wire, insulated wire and copper — worth some $115,202.
The MSP records say Smith admitted he had stolen some copper in Coldwater about a month before the CR-388 incident.
Also according to MSP records, Consumers’ investigation showed that Smith had been fired from a previous job last summer after some copper wire went missing — though Smith’s former employer could never prove he stole it.
An Michigan State Police detective testified before a judge in February that Smith admitted he, Petersen and Wesche were out on Feb. 12 looking for old telephone wires to steal for copper. He said they meant to steal the more valuable telephone wire that was hanging below the live Consumers lines, but that during the process two electrical lines touched and started to melt, so he had to cut them down.
Smith, Wesche and Petersen each face charges of felony larceny between $1,000 and $20,000 and destruction of property — both five-year felonies. Smith and Wesche turned themselves in to police in early March and were formally charged. Police still haven’t been able to track down Petersen, who has a previous conviction for copper theft out of Wyoming from 2013.
Consumers Energy discovered the theft after it was notified of a power outage in Grand Junction. Several customers were without power for about four hours. The utility company said monetary damages totaled more than $3,100.
The three suspects were identified after police released surveillance images of them at a nearby gas station on the day of the theft.
Smith contacted 24 Hour News 8 just after the surveillance photos were released and initially said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that he removed the lines because they were damaged and dangerous. He later told 24 Hour News 8 that he had not been completely honest about what happened and that his “reasons for being there were financially motivated.”