Accused Tulare Co metal thieves arrested

FRESNO, Calif.

Tulare County deputies say the metal thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of copper wire from local farmers.

Water pumps that irrigate Central Valley farms are a lifeline for Tulare County farmers.

"To a farmer this time of year a water pump is an absolute critical tool that they have to have working especially when the weather is hot like it has been this summer," Tricia Stever Blattler of the Tulare County Farm Bureau said.

Farmers rely on the pumps to keep crops green but deputies say metal thieves looking to make fast cash are destroying the devices to steal copper wire.

"These thieves are getting $50 to $100 worth of copper wire and our farmers replacing the damage are 5 or 6, 7 thousand dollars often times to try and repair it to get these pumps back in order," Sheriff Bill Wittman of the Tulare County Sheriff's Office said.

Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman says deputies have now arrested 15 people for stealing the metal.

"Many of them were under the influence of narcotics and couple of them were in possession of narcotics," Jody Cox of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department said.

The arrests were made after a three-week undercover operation.

"We had an airplane out in the air every night to focus on the pumps that were out on dirt roads that are hard to get to," Wittman said.

Five South Valley recyclers have also been cited for buying the stolen metal. Deputies plan to crack down on others breaking the law in the coming weeks.

"Several of the recyclers we contacted even had those notices posted up on their boards so they are well aware of what the laws are," Cox said.

People in the farming community are thrilled about the recent bust but they're concerned these crooks won't stop.

"15 people arrested is very much something to celebrate but there's a lot more out there," Blattler said.

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