Charges: Separate incidents lead to 7 arrests for copper wire theft in St. Paul
Court documents show two separate incidents in the east metro have resulted in the arrests of seven people for their alleged roles in the theft of copper wire across the city of St. Paul, which has been one of many cities plagued by wire thefts in streetlights and traffic lights.
The seven people arrested ranged in age from 21 to 29 years of age, according to court documents.
The first set of arrests happened on Thursday, Jan. 18 in Cottage Grove. According to the complaint, hidden cameras were installed in multiple places across the city by Cottage Grove police that were considered to be especially vulnerable to wire theft.
While monitoring the cameras, police determined a vehicle described as a black Hyundai with black steel rims was a potential suspect. That same vehicle was then spotted by two detectives with the department on Thursday, according to the complaint.
Around 8:50 p.m., the vehicle was spotted going back and forth near Ideal Avenue and 100th Street South in Cottage Grove. The document says the vehicle stopped at a streetlight on Ideal Avenue, and three people got out, manipulated the light’s base and got back into the vehicle before driving off to a second streetlight, where police say they pulled wire from the light’s base fixture.
Multiple officers then arrived at the scene and arrested three people.
The driver, identified in court documents as 24-year-old Dei Gay Moo, as well as 21-year-old front passenger Paw Hkee La, refused to speak with police. The complaint goes on to say that the rear passenger, 24-year-old Tha Htoo, told police she is friends with Moo and La and had “never done this before” but said it was wrong and she was there to “help.”
After searching their vehicle, police say they found pliers, a wire cutter and a screwdriver, which they say would be needed to remove the light fixture base’s cover and cut the wire. Police add the handle of the pliers was wrapped in red tape, and they also found a length of spooled wire that had wrap material imprinted with “City of Saint Paul.”
The complaint says repairing the damage to the light fixtures and replacing the wire stolen by the three suspects is estimated to cost between $1,200 and $1,400.
All three suspects arrested in Washington County have been charged with one count of first-degree aiding and abetting damage to property, one count of aiding and abetting possession of burglary or theft tools and one count of aiding and abetting theft. If convicted of all charges, they could each face a fine of up to $16,000 and also spend up to eight years and three months in prison. La has a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 29, Moo on Jan. 30 and Htoo on March 12.
Court documents state Moo has been convicted in the past of first-degree property damage for cutting a catalytic converter off, fleeing police in a vehicle, carrying a pistol without a permit, theft of a motor vehicle, threats of violence and theft.
Meanwhile, St. Paul police arrested four people on Saturday, Jan. 20 in the city’s North of Maryland neighborhood after a person reported seeing several men who “appeared to be stealing copper” in the area of Nebraska Avenue West and Cohansey Street just after 5 a.m., according to the complaint.
The caller said the men drove off in a white SUV, which was found parked by responding officers, who add a man got in the rear passenger side of the vehicle. the caller told dispatchers she had seen the men near a light pole and while on the phone with 911, saw the light turn off.
Police say when they stopped the vehicle, there were four people inside. They add there were multiple light poles on Nebraska Avenue and in the two blocks around Cohansey Street that were not only damaged but also missing wiring, as well as multiple poles along Arlington Avenue North.
While searching the vehicle, the complaint says officers found a “large quantity of copper wiring in spools” in the back of the SUV, adding much of it was marked “City of St. Paul Public Works.” The document adds a backpack holding tools, a driver, a flashlight and a machete was on the front passenger side floor.
The driver, identified in the complaint as 28-year-old Suran Rai, told police in an interview he had picked up the three other men around 3:30 a.m. and began driving around. He went on to say he got lost and ended up on Cohansey Street, adding he knows someone who lives in the area. Rai then told police the passengers told him to stop on Nebraska Avenue and one of the passengers checked the pole.
According to the complaint, when asked why there was so much copper wiring in the vehicle, Rai said all four of them “pull it;” and that they did this to “one or two” lights,” adding the tools belonged to the passengers.
The document states Rai gave a second interview, saying the three passengers are his friends but he didn’t know their names. He added he had brought the same type of wire to a recycling center a few months ago and then gave someone he didn’t know a large part of the money he had received.
A passenger on the rear driver’s side, identified in the complaint as 24-year-old Eh Tha Blay, told police he was a “lookout” and held a flashlight while others cut wire and pulled it.
The front passenger, identified as 29-year-old Kwi Win, and the other rear passenger, 28-year-old Win Naing, refused to give a statement, according to the complaint. The document adds Win has previous convictions for possession of theft tools.
All four men are charged with one count each of first-degree property damage and one count of possession of tools used for theft or a burglary. If convicted of both charges, each suspect could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison and pay a $15,000 fine.
Records show all four suspects had a court hearing on Tuesday morning and have future hearings scheduled in March.
Documents filed in Ramsey County court add the theft of copper wires has caused public endangerment. As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, wire thieves are believed to have targeted an intersection where a man and his dog were killed late last year.
Ramsey County court documents say the cost to repair damage to a light pole is roughly $4,000, while the cost for each run of copper wire from pole to pole is about $1,000.