COVINGTON — Federal prosecutors claim a ring, which included former Duke Energy employees, made nearly a half-million dollars from selling copper wiring stolen from the utility.
The ring made $469,535 selling the wire to recyclers after it was stripped of its insulation and cut up, according to the indictment. Prosecutors and Duke will not put a dollar amount to the undamaged wiring or say how much was stolen.
The theft occurred over a nearly four-year period before Duke notified law enforcement in November 2010. The employees, including a supervisor, are accused of taking wiring left over from jobs in Hamilton County, Ohio, and selling it to recyclers in Northern Kentucky, instead of returning it to Duke.
Nine men — including four former Duke employees — pleaded not guilty this week in federal court to charges of conspiring to transport goods in interstate commerce, transporting stolen goods in interstate commerce, receiving stolen goods and conspiracy to launder money.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candace Smith scheduled a trial in the case to begin Dec. 3. She allowed the men to remain free on their own recognizance.
Prosecutors revealed that a 10th person, Thomas McGill, has been charged in connection with the conspiracy. He secretly pleaded guilty on May 31 to conspiracy to launder money and agreed to pay back $68,000 that was his share of the profit. Some property he is forfeiting to pay off his restitution includes a wire stripping machine, a Ford pickup truck and a metal trailer.
McGill is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Former Duke maintenance and construction supervisor Keith Kremer, 45, of California, Ky., conspired with former Duke cable splicers Michael T. Rinehard, 44; Troy J. Shira, 41, both of Hebron; and Kobie K. Baker, 38, of Cincinnati; to use their positions within the utility to advance the conspiracy, according to the indictment.
Kremer's attorney, Ben Dusing, said his client is looking forward to defending himself in court. During Thursday arraignment federal prosecutors asked Smith to remove Dusing as Kermer's counsel. The grounds for the request to disqualify Dusing, a former federal prosecutor, are not public because they were outlined in a sealed motion.
The cable splicing crews were responsible for installing new copper wire and replacing old copper wire as routine maintenance to Duke's underground electrical grid in Hamilton County. At the end of each day, the crews were supposed to return excess wire to Duke's Dana Avenue facility in Cincinnati for recycling.
Instead, the wire was transported to undisclosed locations in Northern Kentucky where it was cut into smaller sections and stripped of its outer coatings, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege the copper was then sold to metal recycling companies in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. The recyclers usually paid cash, which was split among the conspirators, according to the indictment.
The indictment outlines six specific dates the stolen copper was allegedly sold between 2006 to mid-November 2010.
SWAT-style raids on six recyclers last year in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati were related to this investigation, Dusing said.
Dennis Johnson, 38, of Cincinnati, is the only owner of a recycling company charged in the conspiracy. He owned Right-Now Recycling in Cincinnati.
The other men charged are Frederick L. Buckler, 44, Justin T. Franzen, 22, and Jordan M. Franzen, 23, all of Alexandria; and Joseph Martin, 46, of California, Ky. The Franzens are brothers.