Man charged in major wire heist from city

A Columbiana man is facing a felony conviction for stealing at least $20,000 worth of copper and aluminum electrical distribution wire from the city’s electric department.

Matthew Phillip Stouffer, 26, of 33 N. Cross St., was taken to the county jail over the weekend after city police found items belonging to the city in his possession during a traffic stop near Herbster and South Main streets on Thursday.

Stouffer remains in jail until his pretrial and preliminary hearing this Thursday before Judge Mark Frost in county Municipal Court.

In addition to the one count of felony theft he is being charged with one count of criminal trespassing.

Police Chief Tim Gladis said the arrest was the culmination of a weeks-long investigation that began when electric department employees began reporting quantities of electrical distribution wire missing from the fenced-in area around the city garage.

The police department set up surveillance of the property and checked with area scrap yards trying to identify the suspect.

Detective Wade Boley said he learned the theft was linked to Stouffer after finding several hundred pounds of the stolen aluminum distribution wire at a scrap yard in Youngstown.

The Youngstown scrap yard was one of many police checked over the last week, and Boley said the company provided him with a copy of Stouffer’s license.

Scrap yards are required to retain photo identification of sellers, he explained.

He added the scrap yard had “no idea” Stouffer was wanted by city police, or that the items had been taken from Columbiana.

The company had questioned Stouffer’s sale at first, but went ahead and accepted the items after he provided an “OK” explanation, he added.

The aluminum wire was recovered by city police with the help of electric department crews, according to a press release issued by Gladis on Monday.

Once the department had Stouffer’s identity an officer saw him driving through town last Thursday with a pickup truck loaded with more scrap, according to the release.

Boley, who was away from work that day, said he had already told other officers to stop Stouffer on probable cause if spotted in the city.

The officer pulled him over for a traffic violation and discovered several items, which included tires and what were later identified as 16 light pole anchors belonging to the city.

Stouffer was taken to the police station where he was questioned and admitted to taking the items from the city garage storage area, the release stated.

Monday, Gladis said Stouffer has an “extensive history” with the police department, with cases dating back to 2001.

The history has a “common theme,” he added, noting Stouffer is the same man found responsible in 2009 for the theft of “The Readers” bronze sculpture located outside the Columbiana Public Library.

Stouffer was sentenced to 13 months in prison for that theft, which took place in January 2008.

The statue, valued at $14,485, was recovered at a Youngstown scrap yard on Jan. 28, 2008, according to previous reports.

On the latest theft, Gladis said the more than 2,600 pounds of copper and aluminum electrical distribution wire was taken from city property by being thrown over the fence on weekends when no electric department crews were working.

“The suspect would climb over the fence … he would then drag coils of wire to the fence and throw them over so he could take the material and sell it for scrap,” he said.

Stouffer is being charged with that theft, which Gladis valued at more than $20,000. A theft becomes a felony when it exceeds $1,000.

Gladis also said Stouffer is a person of interest in several other thefts currently under investigation, and expects additional charges to be filed as the cases are developed.

“There are a number of incidents over at least three weeks back to April. Who knows if more will come out from other jurisdictions,” he said.

The additional charges will be presented to the county grand jury at its next session, he said.