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Copper and lumber thieves strike dozens of businesses, new home sites across Tampa Bay

Burglaries cost victims big money. How to protect your property.
damaged homes.PNG
Posted at 6:24 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 18:24:42-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Thieves searching for wire and wood have hit more than 40 homes under construction in Hillsborough and Polk counties in a matter of days.

Homes by Westbay construction manager Mike Bagdanov told ABC Action News that 13 of the builder's home sites were hit in Apollo Beach earlier this summer. In some cases, the amount of damage meant home buyers had wait even longer to move in.

In Pasco County, crooks have hit 80 sites since January, snatching copper or lumber. And they are not just targeting homes under construction. For example, burglars hit Zone Fitness in Carrollwood ripping copper wire out of all four of the gym's AC units.

The thief gutted the entire AC system, which cost $60,000 in damages, and left the gym with no air conditioning for two weeks. Gym owner Tim Forrest said his gym struggled to stay open during the pandemic and had to pay $10,000 out of pocket for the insurance deductible.

"You can't make that up in a year, especially coming out of COVID," Forrest said.

And Hernando County deputies recently arrested two people accused of stealing more than $70,000 in materials from nearly 20 construction sites.

In many cases, the thief makes little money compared to the amount of destruction he leaves behind. Homes by Westbay estimated the thief made off with less than $50 worth of copper wire per house but it cost the company more than $60,000 in damages.

Since the break-in at Zone Fitness, Forrest said they have installed motion lights and cameras to deter anyone else looking to cash in on copper wire.

While homes are getting hit, too, there are inexpensive deterrents. If you have an alarm, make sure you get a second alarm sign and place it next to your HVAC unit. Also, consider installing a motion light that will shine a spotlight on your system at night if anyone comes near.