While the arrests last week of four men solved a series of recent telephone cable thefts in Franklin County, authorities are aware of other “teams” of suspects who are stealing cable and selling the copper to salvage yards and recycling centers.

Sheriff Gary Toelke said his department continues to investigate the thefts which have been going on for the past several months.

Thieves cut the cable from overhead lines and then burn off the insulation to get to the copper.

In most cases, they are selling the copper to salvage yards for pennies on the dollar, Toelke said.

AT&T reported large amounts of cable being stolen from the Gray Summit, Union, St. Clair, Lonedell, Anaconda and Luebbering areas over the past several months, the sheriff’s office reported. It has been stolen in various lengths of 30 to 700 feet.

Last Friday, deputies received information that led them to a home in the 1300 block of Highacres Drive in the Lake St. Clair development. There they found two men burning the insulation off a “significant” amount of AT&T cable to harvest the copper, according to the report. The men ran into a home but they were arrested by officers.

That investigation led to three other homes in the St. Clair area and the arrest of two more suspects.

Charges Issued

Charged with felony stealing and first-degree property damage are Jeffrey E. Brown, 32; Bryan E. Osborn, 23; Kyle E. Pelton, 39; and Walter J. Taylor, 32, all of St. Clair. They were being held on $35,000 cash-only bonds.

Toelke said the investigation is ongoing and additional arrests are possible. Anyone with information regarding wire or cable theft is asked to contact the sheriff’s office at 636-583-2567.

In a prepared statement, AT&T officials noted that the theft of copper and other metals has skyrocketed in recent years as the price for scrap copper and other metals has increased. “The theft of utility copper is a significant issue for AT&T. Aside from the costs to the company for the loss of material and cost of repairs, utility copper thefts often disrupt service to AT&T’s customers, including their access to emergency services,” the statement reads.

“AT&T takes this matter very seriously. These are not just attacks against our network, they are attacks on the businesses and people living in this community who are left isolated and unable to seek help or assistance during emergencies,” said John Sondag, AT&T Missouri president. “We view these as crimes against the entire community, and we are cooperating with law enforcement to make sure those responsible for this illegal activity are prosecuted.”

AT&T officials attended Tuesday morning’s county commission meeting and recognized deputies for solving the crimes.

Toelke said some of the wire stolen is potentially considered “infrastructure” utilities, and is protected by federal regulations. Upon it being damaged and cut, services were interrupted to commercial facilities that depend on those services for telecommunication, such as banks and schools. Cellular and residential services were also disrupted. AT&T has estimated the damage and loss of property in the Gray Summit and Anaconda areas to exceed $140,000, Toelke said.