Grand jury returns 131-count indictment against suspected copper thieves - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Grand jury returns 131-count indictment against suspected copper thieves

Brennon Morioka Brennon Morioka

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - A group of 10 people is accused of pocketing nearly $145,000 by selling copper wiring that was stolen from Oahu's freeways.

The crime left many drivers traveling in the dark. Now, Honolulu prosecutors want the suspected copper theft ring to pay.

Capping a two-year investigation, prosecutors on Tuesday secured a 131-count indictment against 10 suspects.

"The bottom line is the copper theft was posing a serious risk to motorists along the freeway," Chris Van Marter, deputy prosecutor, said. "And it was incumbent upon law enforcement to do something about it."

An electrical box near a light pole in Makakilo is just one of the many tampered with over the past few years. Thieves hungry for cash pull out the copper wiring, leaving large sections of the H-1 and H-2 Freeways in the dark.

"They have complete disregard for their fellow residents and are doing this for selfish reasons," Brennon Morioka, state transportation director, said.

James Taylor is the suspected ring leader. He and nine others are named in a 131-count indictment. Charges include theft, conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.

"These 10 defendants transported and sold copper to the scrap dealers on 478 occasions," Van Marter said. "They sold over 72,000 lbs. of copper."

And made more than $144,800, prosecutors say.

"This was motivated by drugs," Van Marter said.

As the lights went out, state sheriffs and Honolulu police launched a probe. They were aided by a 2007 law that requires people selling copper to provide documentation.

"We conducted surveillance of freeways -- two, three in the morning, night after night after night -- collected and analyzed thousands of records and police reports, interviewed more than 100 witnesses," Van Marter said.

Transportation officials identify 17 separate incidents in which copper was stolen from the freeways. They say the value of the material lost is more than $560,000. However,

"It's going to cost us millions of dollars to put all that copper wiring back in there, as well as the amount of time that our crews spend going out, checking the pull boxes every single week," Morioka said. "It takes them away from the other things that they could be doing."

All 10 people indicted Monday have been located and taken into custody.

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