CLEARWATER — Authorities believe they've flushed out a thief who pilfered thousands of dollars worth of toilet fixtures from nearly a half-dozen public restrooms around North Pinellas.
Last week, the hardware was missing from the Dunedin and downtown Clearwater libraries, the Dunedin Historical Museum and two Clearwater restaurants — McDonald's at 1860 Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Checkers at 1972 Gulf-to-Bay.
The culprit shut off water to the commodes before removing the flush levers and pipes connecting the bowls to the wall, authorities said.
On Wednesday, Clearwater police arrested Herman Luis Acosta, 43, at his Clearwater home on one count of felony grand theft in connection with the downtown library case.
They and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office investigators are reviewing surveillance video to determine whether he or others are behind the other thefts.
Media outlets across the country have increasingly reported on toilet part thefts.
"I was very happy that they've been able to identify and arrest someone so quickly," said Clearwater libraries director Barbara Pickell. She said repairing the two commodes on the main library's first floor took a $1,500 chunk out of the facility's budget.
"Everything we spend on replacing something that's vandalized or stolen takes a toll on replacing something else . . . like books, or staff time," Pickell said.
According to a police affidavit, security video captured Acosta entering the Clearwater library's men's restroom with a backpack and exiting about 10 minutes later. He sold the plumbing fixtures about four hours later for scrap metal at a Pinellas Park metal recycling business, the report said.
Dunedin library director Phyllis Gorshe said her building was hit the day before the Clearwater library. Patrons reported to employees that the valves were missing from all three stalls in the men's restroom. The urinals were not affected.
The city spent $75 apiece replacing the parts at the Dunedin library as well as at the historical museum, where city staffers say one toilet at the city-owned building was damaged.
Comparing the size of the valves to a small tea cup and estimating the weight of the accompanying piping at no more than 11/2 pounds, Dunedin city engineer Tom Burke said the thief "could've done almost anything to get more money."
"Scrap metal runs under $2 a pound," said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.
Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said Thursday that deputies would forward the Dunedin case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office to determine whether Acosta should be charged with misdemeanor petit theft.
An arrest report says Acosta was also arrested recently by Largo police in connection with a similar theft in that jurisdiction. A spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking details.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.