Copper thieves hit Memphis charity - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Copper thieves hit Memphis charity

Investigators are trying to figure out who is behind a crime that left an after school program with thousands of dollars in damage to its air conditioning units. Investigators are trying to figure out who is behind a crime that left an after school program with thousands of dollars in damage to its air conditioning units.

(WMC-TV) - Investigators are trying to figure out who is behind a crime that left an after school program with thousands of dollars in damage to its air conditioning units.

From the roof top of this Porter-Leath Headstart Center off American Way, it's easy to mistake the damages for the after-math of a tornado, but this is the work of copper thieves

"The damages were estimated today at $220,000," said Porter-Leath Vice President Michael Warr.

He said it's inconceivable that copper crooks would target an organization that reaches out to the less fortunate.

"It's just really terrible when we're here trying to help families that are low income and have little to nothing," he said.

Porter-Leath's director said the operation had to be well planned out because the criminals knew the students would be away on holiday break until after the New Year.

"It had to be a pretty large group who would plan this very much in advance," said Warr. "They came with a ladder. They came with tools to dismantle the equipment."

Evading the surveillance system and cutting power to the alarm system, the thieves didn't stop there.

"It looks like they took rocks and busted the lights out so they couldn't be seen" said Corporate Air Contractor Shane Shumaker.

He said these type of thefts seemed to slow down after a crackdown of Tennessee legislation.

That law passed in October 2008 stating "no scrap metal dealer shall purchase, deal or otherwise engage in the scrap metal business unless the dealer is registered with the Department of Commerce and Insurance".

Shumaker said copper theft is on the rise once again after another scrap metal yard opened across state lines in Arkansas.

"I don't think police will catch them in the act" he said, "they're going to have to catch them cashing in at the yards".

Warr said Porter-Leath hopes to replace the air systems before the start of school after the holidays.

Rosalyn Nichols is the pastor of Freedom's Chapel Christian Church on Colony Park Drive located on the corner near Porter-Leath.

She said just weeks ago they too became copper theft victims with three units stolen.

"In our case they stole the whole units" said Nichols, "but as was the case with Porter-Leath, we also believe that it was a professional job".

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