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Two charged in theft of more than 5 miles of copper wire in northern Harford

Two men have been charged with stealing more than five miles of copper wire off of utility poles in northern Harford County and selling it for scrap.

Aubrey Gerald Pritt, 43, of the 3300 block of Scarboro Road in Street, and Vincent Carroll Johnson, 29, of the 4300 block of Cooper Road in Whiteford, were arrested Monday at Joppa Salvage in the 400 block of Pulaski Highway in Joppa when they tried to sell wire they allegedly stole the night before from power poles along a farm lane off of Ady Road, according to charging documents. Those poles belong to BGE.

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Maryland State Police began an investigation into copper wire thefts after being contacted over the summer by another utility company, according to court charging documents.

James Woznicki from PEPCO Holdings, the parent company for Delmarva Power, told police on June 19 that about 175 feet of seven-stranded aerial neutral copper wire, valued at $220.50, was stolen from utility poles in the area of North Cooper Road in Whiteford, according to charging documents. Delmarva Power serves a portion of northeastern Harford, as well as Cecil County.

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Aerial neutral copper wire is used by energy providers toward the top of utility poles and runs pole to pole to stabilize the power delivery system, according to information Delmarva provided to investigators. Removing the neutral wire can cause stray currents, shock hazards and fluctuating voltages, and cutting the wire could lead to de-energizing a transformer, according to charging documents.

"Regardless of the knowledge people think they have with regard to electricity, we advise everyone, not just those looking to defraud or steal from the company, to stay away from power lines," Nick Morici, media relations manager for Delmarva Power, said Tuesday.

Morici said he could not comment on this case because it is an ongoing investigation and a legal issue.

The complaint from PEPCO prompted an in-depth investigation into similar copper wire thefts in Harford and Cecil counties, according to charging documents.

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Woznicki reported 23 incidents in which aerial neutral copper wire was stolen from Delmarva Power transmission facilities in the communities of Darlington, Pylesville, Street and Whiteford in northern Harford County. Those thefts totaled 28,015 feet and were valued at more than $35,000.

A similar theft was reported along a farmer's lane: 753 feet of the wire, valued at nearly $1,000, according to charging documents.

As part of their investigation, police set up a covert surveillance at Joppa Salvage where, on Monday around 11 a.m., they watched as two men, later identified as Pritt and Johnson, tried to sell 868 feet (112 pounds) of wire, with an estimated value of $1,093.68, according to charging documents. The cost to replace the wire was more than $1,000, according to charging documents.

Delmarva Power told investigating troopers that one pound of aerial neutral copper wire is about 7.75 feet, according to charging documents.

When they were interviewed by troopers, Johnson said he and Pritt sole the wire and agreed to show investigators where they took it, according to charging documents. He took the troopers to the 2400 block of Ady Road, where he said they stole the wire late Sunday night into early Monday morning, according to charging documents.

Johnson also admitted they stole 3,750 feet of the wire, with a value of $4,725, from the area of Whiteford and Archer roads in Whiteford on Oct. 13, according to charging documents. Replacing that wire also was estimated to cost more than $1,000.

Both men are charged with two counts each of theft $1,000 to $10,000, theft scheme $1,000 to $10,000, vandalism more than $1,000, tampering with an electric company's poles or lines and reckless endangerment. Pritt was released from Harford County Detention Center on $5,000 bail; Johnson was being held Tuesday on $20,000 bail.

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