Copper wire thieves sinking Fresno deeper in debt

FRESNO, Calif.

City officials are trying their best to fix the affected street lights which no longer work. Many who steal copper wire look for quick cash by going to a recycling yard. But one owner Action News spoke with says he takes extra precautions and even turns away some customers.

In this tough economy the city of Fresno is seeing many of its street lights being stripped of copper wire.

"People are becoming desperate and looking for ways to make some amount of money. And unfortunately they're choosing to do that by causing vandalism and stealing wire," said Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller.

Wiemiller says since February of 2010, 94 locations throughout the city have been hard hit by vandals, causing nearly $110,000 in damage. He adds it doesn't take long to steal copper wire. "Merely lift off and you'd be able to see the exposed wiring there and people can grab and take that," said Wiemiller.

The city is now making it harder on crooks by sealing the lids with gravel and cement.

Those who already have stolen copper wire in their possession will mostly likely try to turn a profit at places like Bruno's recycling shop in Southwest Fresno. But owner Randy Tosi says people wanting to sell copper wire have to prove they're legit.

"We videotape every facet of the transactions. We verify the source where it came from and get drivers licenses ID's and if it's suspicious we make a call to the sheriff's office." said Tosi.

Until the lights get fixed many streets will remain dark. Fresno Police hope alert citizens will help shine a light on these criminals by reporting strange activity right away.

"Sometimes these thieves will burn the insulation on the wire, so strange fires. People coming and going at odd hours. Those are all the things we need to know about." said Lt. Burke Farrah.

The public works department has its own budget issues so they will be hiring contractors to replace the stolen copper wire.

Wiemiller will also be asking the city council Thursday to take money from the city's risk reimbursement fund to pay for the damage.

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