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Sting operation nabs metal thieves
Southeastern Tulare County hardest hit
Three Porterville recycling businesses were cited and five local residents were arrested by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department in connection with a spike in metal thefts.
Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman announced the culmination of a three-week long detail that involved the Tulare County Sheriff’s Agricultural Crimes Unit, Kern County Agricultural Crimes Unit, Tulare County Sheriff’s Community Based Officers, Tulare County Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel and the Tulare County District Attorney’s office.
The sheriff said a high number of thefts of copper wire, much from a local utility and farmers, and other metal thefts prompted the special detail that resulted in 25 arrests, over 50 suspicious vehicles checked, 150 traffic stops, nine vehicle confiscated and a total of 130 people and 20 recycle centers contacted.
Cited were three Porterville area recyclers: Cosecha Recycling, AG Recycling and Gutierrez Recycling. Two Pixley recyclers were also cited: Lucas Recycling and J’s Recycling.
Sgt. Jody Cox, supervisor of the TCSD Ag Crimes Unit, said six people were arrested at the centers and five others were cited.
Cox said that the theft of wiring, especially copper wiring, had been on the increase over the past several months and they determined most of the thefts had been within Avenue 96 to Avenue 200 and Road 192 to the Kings County Line.
Cox said they used a three-pronged approach, the first being high saturation patrols in the areas where most of the thefts had been occurring; then a sting operation where undercover officers attempted to sell wiring to recycling centers, and then compliance checks at the recycling businesses.
In 2008, California added more teeth to metal theft laws, placing more responsibilities on recyclers to cut down on the thefts. Recyclers must wait three days to pay for scrap metal, must get a valid ID from the seller, a finger print of the seller, a photo of the seller and a photo of the material they were selling.
Cox said many recyclers were complying with the law. Of the 22 stores checked, fewer than 10 were cited, he said.
The sergeant said the value of the metal stolen is only one part of the story. “They’re (thieves) getting $50 to $100, but it’s costing farmers thousands of dollars in damage and repairs,” he said.
The following statistics are the results of the detail:
15 people were arrested on fresh charges,
9 people were arrested for misdemeanor warrants,
1 person was arrested for an outstanding felony warrant,
5 people were issued citations for various offenses,
9 vehicles were towed,
130 people were contacted and field interviewed,
56 suspicious vehicles were checked,
Over 150 traffic stops were conducted,
Of those subjects arrested:
5 people were arrested for being under the influence of narcotics,
1 person was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol,
2 people were arrested for felony possession of narcotics,
6 recycle business owners or employees were arrested for felony and misdemeanor charges relating to illegally purchasing copper wire belonging to a public utility company, failure to maintain proper record of transactions, failure to maintain certified scale, and failure to have required Weigh-Master license to purchase specified materials.
Cox said in most instances, the person arrested for possession or suspected of stealing wire, was also under the influence of drugs or were in possession of drugs.
Those arrested from Porterville:
Mary Rocha, 55; Manuel Garcia, 47; Armie Agustin, 40, Jose Baltazar, 46, Jose Hernandez, 44; Arturo Cabrera, 45; Ismael Romero, 36; and Henry Sagastome, 27.
Also arrested were:
Michael Murch, 59 of Pixley; Rafael Carranza, 31 of Tipton; Jesus Venegas, 22 of Earlimart, Luis Orduno Torres, 23 of Pixley, Jimmy Ansiel, 42 of Visalia, Jose Carranza, 33 of Teviston and Juan Silva, 39 of Tipton.
The Sheriff’s Office urges everyone to report suspicious activity. The can also send information anonymously through the TipNow program or text or call 725-4194. The can also e-mail information to email@example.com.