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Cops arrest one in early-morning copper caper

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San Francisco police announced yesterday the arrest of a man suspected of attempting to steal about 20 pounds of copper wiring from a Pacific Gas & Electric underground vault.

Police allege that Michael David O’Keefe, 55, was arrested at about 5:30 a.m. on January 5, 2013, after they received a report of someone breaking into the vault on the 1600 block of Folsom Street.

Officers arriving at the scene report they saw O’Keefe running away from a manhole cover that had been moved. It is further alleged that when they apprehended O’Keefe he had burglary tools in his pocket. After “violently resisting” arrest, he was taken into custody.

On the sidewalk next to the manhole cover, police say, the officers found five high-voltage copper wires, cut on the ends, “that the suspect had abandoned in his flight from the officers.” Each wire was six-to-seven feet long.

Another suspect was detained at the scene but eventually released due to a lack of evidence, according to Officer Albie Esparza.

O’Keefe was charged with theft, possession of burglary tools and resisting arrest.

According to the SFPD, scrap dealers pay about $3 per pound for copper and 30 feet of copper wiring weighs about 20 pounds.

An unclassified intelligence assessment by the FBI from 2008 concluded that the demand for copper from developing nations like China and India is creating a “robust international copper trade,” causing the price of copper to rise and copper thieves are exploiting this situation.

“As the global supply of copper continues to tighten, the market for illicit copper will likely increase,” the assessment concludes. “Copper thefts from these targets have increased since 2006; and they are currently disrupting the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating, and security and emergency service, and present a risk to both public safety and national security.”

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