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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Ohio

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Brooklyn Man Sentenced To Three Years In Prison For Stealing Copper From Substations

A Brooklyn, Ohio, man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to steal copper from two dozen substations in Northeast Ohio owned by First Energy or Cleveland Public Power, said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland office.

Michael T. Butts, 33, was also ordered to pay more than $242,626 in restitution to First Energy Corp. by U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson.           

Butts and six other men previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to damage energy facilities. Previously sentenced are:

William Bertini, 26, of Olmsted Falls, to two years in prison.

Christopher M. Butts, 27, of Cleveland, to four years and seven months in prison.

Jason B. Kauffman, 35, of Cleveland, to three years and one month in prison.

Julio Torres, 46, of Cleveland, to two year and three months in prison.

Jon T. Lefort, 26, of Cleveland, to one year and three months in prison

Keven Wenson, 22, of Lakewood, to two years of supervised release.

“These sentences should send a message that the theft of copper and other scrap metal is a serious problem in our region, and the targeting of energy facilities additionally poses a significant threat to our national security infrastructure,” Dettelbach said.

"This is the last of a group of seven that chose to enrich themselves while risking lives and posing serious threats to our community,” Anthony said. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice those individuals who place our community in harm’s way.”         

The thefts took place between January and May 2013 and included substations in Brooklyn, Parma, Brecksville, Fairlawn, Medina, Cleveland, Wadsworth, Lakewood, Cuyahoga Heights, Independence, Vermillion, Lorain, Avon Lake, Westlake and Valley View, according to court documents.   

The 24 substations listed in the indictment have copper material around their bases that facilitated the transmission of electricity. Removal of the copper material from a substation causes a substantial risk of electrical blackouts as well as possible injury or death to utility company employees responsible for maintaining, servicing and repairing the substations, according to court documents.

Christopher and Michael Butts instructed Lefort, Bertini, Kauffman, Wenson and Torres how to remove the copper material from the substation in a way that would minimize the risk of physical harm to the person cutting the wire or cable. The defendants used bolt cutters to cut fencing and/or locks protecting the substations, according to court records.

The defendants then unlawfully extracted the copper wire and materials from the substations, manually carrying it in garbage cans, duffel bags, contractor bags and other containers to “staging areas.” From there, the copper material was transported to scrap yards, where it was sold for cash, according to court documents.

Court documents detail 25 copper thefts and five attempted thefts. It also lists 53 instances where at least some of the defendants sold stolen copper to area scrap yards between January and April 2013.

The defendants collectively sold the stolen copper for more than $15,000. They have collectively been ordered to pay $242,626 to First Energy Corp. for the cost of repairs to the substations.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas E. Getz and M. Kendra Klump following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Avon Lake Police Department, Brecksville Police Department, Medina County Sheriff’s Office, Middleburgh Heights Police Department, Valley View Police Department and Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center, and assistance from the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office.

Updated March 12, 2015