Judge Drops Hammer On Homeless Copper Thief

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- A homeless man convicted of stealing more than 100 pounds of copper pipes pleaded for mercy at his sentencing Monday. Faleifa Mauga says he needed money to survive.

Unfortunately for him, there's a new law that makes the theft of more than one pound of copper a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

After five months of sitting in jail, the homeless thief's hair is neatly trimmed. He looked much different at the time of his arrest.

"He was living under a bridge by the airport viaduct area trying to survive," David Williams, deputy public defender, said.

Kalihi police conducting a copper sting at a military housing construction site on Catlin Drive caught the 39-year-old red-handed.

"This was an area that had huge piles of debris," Williams said. "It looked like, almost like a refuse, and Mr. Mauga did trespass onto the property. He started to rummage."

Investigators say he filled a trash bin with 142 lbs. of copper pipes. A new law makes the theft of more than one pound of copper a felony.

"I don't know if it's some kind of substance abuse problem, but that's what these theft of copper cases seem to be about," Don Pacarro, deputy prosecutor, said.

Prosecutors say Mauga has a prior arrest for shoplifting 16 boxes of Sudafed. The cold medicine contains Pseudoephedrine, an ingredient for making crystal methamphetamine.

"Who shoplifts 120 dollars worth of sinus medication?" Pacarro asked. "I don't know. He could have had a major sinus problem."

Mauga says five months locked up is punishment enough.

"I learned, learned a lot from the time I've been in jail, your honor," he said. "I learned one thing important is to live life by obeying the law."

But the judge believes the five-year term might do the trick.