Recycler helps crack copper caper

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Friday, January 4, 2008
— Gene Oakley thought it was the perfect set-up, but a shift change at the Rock County Sheriff’s Department delayed a response and almost let a man suspected of trying to sell stolen copper get away.

Oakley, owner of Patricia’s Aluminum in Janesville, got a call Thursday from a man inquiring about the price of copper, which has been rising in recent years. The man said he had between 300 and 500 pounds to sell.

While he was in Evansville earlier Thursday, Oakley was tipped off by Baker Manufacturing that the company had about $5,000 worth of material, mostly copper, stolen in December.

“I thought, this is the guy with the stuff from Baker,” Oakley said this morning.

Oakley said he gave the man a “big” price, one that wouldn’t raise suspicion but one that the man couldn’t refuse. The man said he’d be at Oakley’s in about an hour.

Oakley said his mind started spinning with set-up plans. He dialed 911 to see if he could get deputies in place to arrest the man.

“They said they couldn’t do that,” Oakley said, so he quickly called the Evansville Police Department to see if they could grease the skids at the sheriff’s department.

Then he turned to his own plan of attack, one that involved a variety of ways to stall the man until police showed up.

The man arrived and didn’t seem fazed by the stall tactics, which included a disabled car in the driveway, employees spilling materials and bathroom breaks, Oakley said.

After weighing the man’s materials, Oakley determined he had 538 pounds of mostly copper, which were worth about $5,000 to Baker, Oakley said.

“I gave the guy my numbers, and he kept grinding over them like he was some sort of account executive,” Oakley said.

All the while, an employee was signaling Oakley that the keys were not in the man’s vehicle.

“I signaled to him OK, and then he started signaling back about calling 911,” Oakley said. “I signaled ya, ya, and then my wife came back in with more of her problems with the stalled car.

“We were playing the game pretty good.”

The man kept crunching the numbers, and Oakley saw officers arriving in the parking lot.

“This great big cop walks in and says, ‘How ya doing partner,’” Oakley said. “The guy never moves, never looks up. The cop then bumped his chair, and the guy looked up and said, ‘Oh my God, it’s a cop,’”

Deputies arrested Jeffery L. Kirsch, 26, of 1440 Marquette St., Janesville, on charges of burglary and a probation violation.

“It really was a stroke of luck,” Evansville Police Chief Scott McElroy said. “It was due to outstanding citizen input.”

Oakley said his role in the copper caper made an otherwise routine day more interesting.

“We had the perfect scenario worked out, but because of the shift change the ball was almost dropped,” he said.

Last updated: 3:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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