Los Banos men arrested in theft of copper wire

LOS BANOS -- Merced County sheriff's investigators arrested two men suspected of stealing thousands of feet of copper wire from a Los Banos housing and golf course development earlier this month.

The investigation stemmed from two copper burglaries in mid-January at the Fox Hills construction site on Volta Road near the California Aqueduct, said deputy Tom MacKenzie, a sheriff's spokesman.

Timothy Lee McLaughlin, 40, and Franklin James Alves, 41, both of Los Banos, were taken into custody early Tuesday during a traffic stop.

Detective Roy Tighe of the Merced County Rural Crimes Task Force learned McLaughlin and Alves were on felony probation and lived at a home in the 1300 block of Cardinal Street in Los Banos.

MacKenzie said that when Tighe and several deputies went to the home for a probation compliance check, Tighe noticed evidence from the Fox Hills copper theft. A search warrant was obtained for the home, and, MacKenzie said, officials found about 50 feet of stolen copper wire -- the rest of the stolen wire had been sold.

Tighe conservatively estimated the value of the stolen copper at more than $50,000, including the copper recovered and the stolen wire still missing.

The wire stolen from Fox Hills was in underground conduits. MacKenzie said the two men would cut the wire at both ends, attach one end to a chain and pull it with a vehicle out of the conduit. He said they could pull out a hundred feet of a copper at a time.

The men would take it to the garage of the Cardinal Street home, strip the insulation off and cut it into manageable pieces, MacKenzie said.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.