Man charged in theft of copper from power company's substations

Met-Ed racked up more than $100,000 in lost materials, repairs, police say

Posted: 11:47 AM EDT May 04, 2012   Updated: 6:17 PM EDT May 04, 2012
Cut pipe at Met-Ed substation - Maurice Ohlinger

A drug addiction is what police said motivated a man to steal thousands of dollars worth of copper tubing.

"He did have a drug habit, and he did not have a job, so that's how he was surviving," said Sgt. Brian Horner, Northern Berks Regional Police Department.

Maurice Ohlinger was apprehended early Friday morning at a Met-Ed substation on Old Swede Road in Amity Twp., Berks Co., police said.

Ohlinger, 48, of Reading, confessed to police his role in 19 recent thefts at substations around Berks County, said Horner.

"You know, people do things, and they really don't realize what they're doing, doing the drugs," said Horner.

More than 1,200 pounds of copper tubing had been taken in the recent thefts, costing Met-Ed more than $100,000 in materials and repairs, Horner said.

Investigators said Ohlinger hit substations in places like Leesport and Birdsboro, and after repairs were made, police said Ohlinger would break in again and steal more copper. 

Detectives said Ohlinger would then cash in the copper at a nearby scrap dealer, but thanks to a Pennsylvania law requiring scrap dealers to keep customer information, police were able to track Ohlinger's transactions.

"Up to over 100 pounds at a time," said Horner. "There was even 200 pounds he was taking in at a day's time."

Ohlinger's copper spree ended around 3 a.m. Friday when police said Ohlinger set off the alarm at the substation in Amity Township. Police said they caught Ohlinger cutting the ground wire. 

"It's a wonder he didn't get killed," said Horner. "According to Met-Ed, if he would have cut approximately 12 inches on one of the lines a few weeks ago, he would have been dead from being electrocuted."

In the end, authorities said Ohlinger netted $4,000 in his sale of copper and copper-plated tubing.

Ohlinger now faces charges of burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.