ATKINSON — A Sandown man is the prime suspect in as many as eight copper thefts in four different towns, police said yesterday.
So far, Teddy Willette, 32, only faces two Class B felony charges of driving with a suspended license while a habitual offender. But local police said yesterday they expect to charge him soon with burglary charges in multiple cases.
Atkinson police Sgt. Patrick Caggiano said Willette is suspected of breaking into homes that were in foreclosure or unoccupied and for sale, stripping out the copper piping and selling it as scrap.
Over the past six weeks, one home in Atkinson, two in Hampstead, one in Plaistow, and three or four in Sandown were broken into and damaged when the copper was removed, he said.
“Right now, he’s the prime and sole suspect in all of these cases,” Caggiano said yesterday. “We anticipate charging him.”
So do police in Hampstead and Plaistow.
Sandown police Sgt. Aurie Roy said she couldn’t comment because her department has yet to interview Willette, but did acknowledge there have been three or four copper thefts in that town recently.
The copper was sold as scrap at Winfield Alloy, a metal recycling business in Atkinson, police said. Employees there told Officer Stephen Lundquist that Willette had sold a lot of copper scrap to them over the past six weeks.
A surveillance camera recorded Willette driving on Winfield Alloy property Oct. 31 and police knew his license was under suspension, Caggiano said. An arrest warrant was issued for Willette on the charge of operating under suspension while a habitual offender.
On Nov. 2, Willette was again captured on surveillance video driving on Winfield Alloy property, Caggiano said. Willette was arrested after a second trip to the company that same day.
“Winfield Alloy has been very cooperative,” Caggiano said. “Once we learned his name, we distributed it with an information-sharing tool we have. Then we started getting inquiries from other departments.”
Hampstead Detective Robert Kelly worked with Lundquist on the investigation.
Two homes there — one for sale on Beverly Drive and one a bank foreclosure on Stage Road — were burglarized, Hampstead Lt. John Frazier said yesterday.
In addition to the theft of the cooper, the homes were damaged in the process, Frazier said of its removal. He said plumbing repairs on one home were estimated at $2,400. It was worse in the second house; plumbing repairs were about $2,800, but there was an additional $5,400 in damage to doors and ceilings.
He said his department is drafting arrest warrants for Willette. It’s the same story in Plaistow, where Detective Sgt. Glenn Miller said he anticipates Willette to be charged with burglary.
The owner of a vacant house listed for sale on East Road reported a burglary to Plaistow police on Oct. 20.
“The homeowner came to check house, noticed someone had entered and took the copper out of the cellar,” Miller said yesterday. “Copper is very expensive now. There was thousands of dollars in loss and damages.”
That was the only reported copper theft in Plaistow in recent months, Miller said, although he acknowledged there could be others that haven’t been discovered yet.
“He is a suspect,” he said of Willette. “We anticipate charging him. We are looking to complete warrants on him very shortly.”
Miller credited good police work by the Atkinson department.
“Atkinson did a fantastic job,” he said.
Caggiano said the methods and the crimes were the same in all cases.
“These houses, unfortunately, have for sale or foreclosed signs in front of them. People engaged in this type of activity look for those online or physically,” he said. “We see a spike in this type of crime when the price of metals increases. A large portion we’ve seen is related to chemical dependency. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but it’s not like they’re doing it to pay off debt. Either it’s the economic times or chemical dependency, which is a strong factor.”
The damage to the homes is significant, he said.
“We’re talking about replacing a whole water-carrying system to a house,” Caggiano said. “So, it’s the cost of a plumber, rerunning pipes, water heaters damaged, water pump systems, most of these are forced hot-water systems. The attraction to older houses is all the copper pipes. Why break into an old house? It’s easier and cheaper.”
Willette is free on bail on the suspended driving charges, both of which carry potential fines and up to three years in jail. He is scheduled to appear in 10th Circuit Court in Plaistow Dec. 17 to answer those charges.
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