Copper thieves, ask yourselves: Is it worth 5 years?
A state judge has imposed the maximum five-year prison sentence on a man convicted of stealing copper from a city facility.
CIRCUIT Judge Steve Alm has sent a strong message to copper thieves by imposing the maximum five-year prison sentence
for criminal property damage in such a case. The sentence should be a signal that future cases will be treated severely under the terms of a law enacted by this year's Legislature.
The new law makes theft of copper a felony but it was not used in the case of Michael Handy, whose offense occurred in May 2006, before its enactment. Handy was accused of stripping copper siding and rain gutters from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply's Kapahulu facility. Instead, Handy was sentenced for his conviction of criminal property damage, which carries a maximum five-year prison term.
Lee Hayakawa, a deputy public defender, said Handy was a "sacrificial lamb" for a increasingly common crime. Indeed, Alm, a former U.S. attorney for Hawaii, said the stiff sentence was partly intended to deter others from stealing copper, a growing problem nationwide as copper prices soared from 80 cents to $3.60 a pound on financial markets since 2003, although dipping to $3.26 this year.
Thieves stole $10,000 worth of brass toilet flush valves from Honolulu parks last year and caused $300,000 in damage to state freeways by stealing copper wire. The theft of copper wiring forced cancellation of a football game last month at Campbell High School because the lights would not work. The football field's damage was estimated at $25,000.
Hawaii was among 20 states this year that passed laws to curb the problem. In addition to making copper theft a felony, the new law requires people who sell copper to scrap dealers to provide a notarized declaration that they have a legal right to sell the copper.
Alm pointed out that the theft of copper harms taxpayers. While the copper stolen by Handy was valued at less than $100, the estimated damage and replacement costs were $23,000. "People think it's just a theft crime," said city Deputy Prosecutor Franklin Pacarro. "It's a public utility, and it affects all of us."
The danger of stealing copper from utility lines has not deterred thieves, some of whom have been electrocuted in the middle of committing crimes. In March, a 54-year-old Waipahu man fell 40 feet to his death from a utility pole near Honolulu Airport. Police said the man had been cutting wires between a transformer and transmission lines at the top of the pole when he probably lost his balance and grabbed a live wire carrying 11,500 volts.
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