Four charged in theft of copper, aluminum from Aberdeen Proving Ground

Four Aberdeen Proving Ground employees, including two from Harford County, one from Cecil County and one from Pennsylvania, were indicted this week by a federal grand jury, charged with stealing aluminum and copper they had access to on the military installation as part of their jobs.

The indictments were returned Thursday, and one of the defendants, Timothy Bittner, was arrested at work Friday, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office.

An Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman in Quantico, Va., had confirmed last month that there was an ongoing investigation of theft of aluminum at APG, but could not say if and or when any charges would be filed.

Bittner, 52, of Bel Air; Robert W. Reynolds, 29, of Felton, Pa.; and Steven M. Coale, 33, of North East; are charged in the first indictment with conspiracy to steal and theft of government property, specifically, more than $87,000 worth of copper wire.

Ronald Phillips Baker Sr., 62, of Havre de Grace, is charged in the second indictment with theft of government property, specifically more than 2,700 pounds of aluminum worth more than $110,000 on one occasion and a total of more than 27,000 pounds.

The indictments were announced by Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland; Robert Craig, the Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service - Mid-Atlantic Field Office; the Directorate of Emergency Services, U.S. Army Garrison, Aberdeen Proving Ground; and Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the FBI.

"The indictments should send a strong message that this type of egregious behavior – allegations of theft while supposedly working on the government clock, to include even stripping active copper wire from an APG building - will not be tolerated," Craig said in a press release.

According to their indictment, Bittner, Reynolds and Coale were employed as electricians at APG's directorate of public works.

From March through November 2011, the three allegedly used their access to the buildings in the Edgewood Area of APG – including the FTX/Wolverine site, the Eagle Point site, the electrical room at the chemical demilitarization site and several others – and their expertise as electricians to steal copper fixtures and copper wire from government buildings, according to the indictment.

During their regular workday and when working overtime, the defendants allegedly pulled the wire, including wire in use, and took the copper and copper wire in their government vehicles to the APG parking lot where they transferred the stolen items to their personal vehicles, according to the indictment.

The defendants rented space at a storage facility, allegedly to store the copper and copper wire and bought a stripping machine, which they allegedly used to remove the insulation from the copper wire to increase the price, the indictment continued. The defendants also are alleged to have sold the copper to metal recyclers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware as scrap, and divided the proceeds, which totaled approximately $87,000.

Investigators said wire was removed from Eagle Point in June 2011, a lease for a storage facility was signed on Aug. 2, 2011 and the insulation was stripped from the copper wire using the stripping machine on Aug. 8, 2011.

Investigators also documented alleged sales of metal on April 1 (Reynolds) and 22, (Coale) 2011, June 2, 2011 (Coale), July 29, 2011 (Reynolds), Aug. 10 (Coale) and 12 (Coale, Reynolds and Bittner), 2011, Sept. 10, 2011 (Bittner – two sales), Nov. 4 and 19, 2011 (both Reynolds), according to the U.S. Attorney's office, which also said the three allegedly falsified their work orders to their supervisors.

According to Baker's two-count indictment, Baker operated a patrol boat on the Chesapeake Bay to keep boats away from waters near APG which are affected by weapons testing. As a result, Baker had a security clearance to access the APG boat docks.

On April 23 of this year, Baker used his security clearance to access a secure area where he allegedly stole fabricated aluminum outriggers, used for testing mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; the outriggers weighed more than 2,740 pounds and were worth more than $110,000, according to the indictment, which further alleges that from September 2010 through April, Baker stole nearly 27,500 pounds of aluminum.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, all four defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft of government property. Bittner, Reynolds and Coale also face a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy to steal government property.

Bittner was scheduled to have an initial appearance at 2 p.m. Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Initial appearances for the Reynolds, Coale and Baker are expected to be scheduled this week.

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