Manatee County sheriff's deputies are searching for the thieves responsible for stealing more than 1,900 feet worth of copper wire from a construction site near the Lakewood Ranch development.
Much of the wire was pulled directly out of the ground at the location at 6125 Lorraine Road. The construction crew brought in a replacement spool of copper wire, and it, too, was stolen, leading investigators to suspect an organized theft operation.
Deputies said the problem is not limited to Manatee County, as copper thefts have been reported throughout Tampa Bay and the country. Investigators said the thieves target facilities like power substations and also outdoor air conditioning units and other devices that contain copper wiring.
"Copper is fairly expensive now," said Dave Bristow, Manatee sheriff's spokesman. "It runs anywhere from $2.50 to $3 a pound, so they know they can get a pretty good bang for their buck."
Empty construction sites like the one near Lakewood Ranch are particularly vulnerable, as there's little to no security.
Manatee County and the sheriff's office is working on stiffening the penalties for copper thefts in hopes of curbing the crimes. Florida state law already requires scrap yards to properly identify copper sellers, similar to what pawn shops do.
"The problem would be if you get a place that simply doesn't do it," Bristow said. "And simply takes the case under the table."