3 arrested in connection with $1M in copper thefts

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EUREKA, Juab County — Four people have been charged in connection with a nearly year-long copper theft operation that resulted in approximately $1.5 million in damages and losses from the Trixie Mine east of Eureka.

Three of those people had been arrested as of Thursday, and additional arrests were expected.

"There's certainly more to come," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Faith Allison Fernandes, 40, Richard James Fernandes Jr., 50, and Robert Blake Valdez, 47, all from Provo, were each charged Wednesday in 4th District Court with 21 felonies, including being involved in a pattern of criminal activity, criminal mischief and multiple counts of burglary and theft.

They were originally arrested for investigation of 25 counts of burglary, 23 counts of theft, 26 counts of criminal trespass in a mine, two counts of possession of burglary tools, methamphetamine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession, and four counts of felony child endangerment, Cannon said.

A fourth person, known only as "JJ," was also charged Wednesday. Cannon said investigators don't know that person's last name or whether JJ is a real name or a moniker, but they have enough evidence to file charges. Once that person's identity is learned, the charges will likely be revised.

Between Dec. 24, 2012, and Oct. 25, 2013, prosecutors say the group stole "a large amount of copper wire and cable which they cut from electrical installations at the mine," according to charging documents. The mine was burglarized nearly a dozen times by the group — sometimes on consecutive days, according to a police affidavit filed in 4th District Court.

Investigators believe there were other times the mine was burglarized but the incidents were either not reported to police or employees didn't recognize a crime had occurred because snow had covered the evidence, the affidavit states.

"Also during the course of the search, investigators found marijuana, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. There were also a boy and a girl, ages approximately 8 and 9, in the home at the time of the search warrant."

Cannon estimated the total damage caused to the mine, 18100 West and U.S. 6, plus the cost of the stolen copper is about $1.5 million, with more than $1 million of that coming from the stolen copper. More than 5,000 feet of 3-inch copper wire was stolen over the past year, he said.

The theft and damages "resulted in significant delays in the processing of ore at the mine. These delays have caused financial losses in an undetermined amount due to lost production time," the report states.

In August, mine employees actually detained two of the defendants, but there wasn't enough evidence at the time to arrest them in connection with copper thefts, Cannon said. They were arrested, however, for investigation of trespassing and possession of burglary tools, the affidavit states.

On Oct. 21, sheriff's deputies, who by this time had collected names of possible suspects, were called to another theft at the Trixie Mine in the Tintic Mining District.

"This time they were able to connect tire tracks and footprints left at the scene of the crime to a vehicle at the home of the previously identified suspects in Provo," according to the affidavit.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and said they found items stolen from the mine inside the house.

"Also during the course of the search, investigators found marijuana, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. There were also a boy and a girl, ages approximately 8 and 9, in the home at the time of the search warrant," police wrote.

Sheriff's investigators were looking Thursday at whether the group could be connected to any other copper thefts in Utah County over the past year. Each defendant has had frequent run-ins with authorizes, Cannon said.

Court records show Valdez's criminal history dates back 26 years in Utah and includes about 40 bookings in the Utah County Jail.

Faith Fernandes was charged with criminal trespass in August and felony drug and burglary charges in August, according to state court records.

Contributing: Shara Park and Alex Cabrero


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