MENANDS - Authorities say they have broken up a crime ring that stole tons of copper wire from National Grid and CSX, disrupting operations and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Throughout 2006, investigators say the ring repeatedly broke into National Grid substations in the area, as well as the Selkirk rail yard, to steal the high-priced copper. They allegedly cut the copper into small pieces, burned off the rubber coating and then sold the wire at local and New York City-area scrap yards.
The operation's reputed mastermind, Jeremy Roberts, 23, of Averill Park, was arrested in December as he allegedly cut wire from a spool at the National Grid substation in Menands.
The other men were all arrested March 1.
In addition to Roberts, Ian Dell, 18, of Averill Park; Quinn Lashway, 18, and Reed Lashway, 17, both of East Greenbush, were charged with felony grand larceny and criminal mischief. They have also been charged with possessing burglar tools and with trespass, both misdemeanors.
Another man, 34-year-old Hector Mendez of Watervliet, who was arrested by Albany police, has been charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property.
All of the men are also facing similar charges in other municipalities. Roberts has been in the Albany County jail since his December arrest, while the rest of the men are out on bail. Roberts could face up to 18 years in jail, said Albany County Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Wiest.
It was not known if any of the men have attorneys.
"Roberts got various people to use their identities to turn in property to scrap yards," said Menands Police Chief Michael O'Brien.
Village police, along with the help of a variety of area law enforcement agencies, brought down the alleged ring.
The men made at least $100,000 from the scrap metal over the year, said National Grid security manager Craig Masterson. The value of the wire to National Grid was two to three times that much.
"Theft of National Grid property can cause outages, slow down response time and cause injury or death to those entering the facilities," said Masterson. "We cannot allow electric or gas service to be disrupted by criminals."
In the past five years, the price of scrap copper has skyrocketed, making thefts that were once uncommon a regular occurrence. In 2002, it was 75 cents per pound. Now it it hovering close to $3.
Metals such as copper and brass are now worth more than three times what they were at the beginning of the decade. Driving the increase has been a building boom overseas in places such as China and India, and a demand for construction materials in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The thieves would break in through secure fences at National Grid substations in Menands, Warrensburg, Troy and Brunswick, cut up the wire and load it into a truck. They then went to the top of a mountain in Berlin where they burned off the rubber coating.
"They did it under the cover of darkness so that people wouldn't see the smoke," said O'Brien. "Then they would take it to scrap yards and it was not uncommon for them to receive $3,000 or $4,000 at a time."
Roberts has a history of arrests for stealing scrap, said Menands Sgt. Frank Lacosse.
Wiest said he did not believe scrap yards were turning a blind eye to the thefts.
"They are charged by law with keeping records and they did that," said Wiest. "We don't expect them to alert police every time someone brings in a bale of copper wire."