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Alleged copper thieves arrested in Beverly Hills

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and Justice

It was a case of Beverly Hills copper.

Except instead of starring Eddie Murphy, police said the caper starred five teenagers accused of knocking out power to street lights in the wealthy city in a doomed effort to steal copper wire, which can be sold for scrap.

An officer on patrol about 1:50 a.m. Friday in the residential area of Rexford Drive and Lomitas Avenue in north Beverly Hills noticed lights were out and began scouring for suspicious activity, said Sgt. Max Subin. The officer stopped a vehicle and found the occupants had a trove of tools investigators believe were used to steal copper, Subin said.

Since November, the area has had three cases of copper theft, he said. This would have been the fourth.

"They were in the middle of doing it. They shut the power off and then the officer saw them and made a traffic stop," Subin said. "They had all the tools and they were caught in the act."

Subin said detectives were in the process of doing interviews and trying to find out whether the suspects were involved in the previous copper thefts.

The suspects were identified as Horacio Galindo, Froilian Silva, Michael Padilla and Francisco Martinez, all 18 years old, and 19-year old Brian Gomez, Subin said.

Copper theft is "an issue countywide. Lots of cities are dealing with this," he said.

In fact, copper theft is rampant across the country. California was one of the top five states for metal theft claims, according to a 2012 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Copper is a particularly lucrative target because its price has been increasing.

In one of the most unusual and dangerous cases, an explosion that was tied to copper wire theft ripped through a building at UC Berkeley in September.

The blast and fire at California Hall left four people with minor injuries.

Subin said that by early Friday evening, 90% of the street lights affected in the residential Beverly Hills neighborhood had power back, but it could take until Monday before the rest are restored. He said the cost of the damage hasn't been assessed yet.

 

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Twitter: @hbecerralatimes

hector.becerra@latimes.com

 

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