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Deputies claim break in copper-tubing case

Hernando County sheriff's deputies hope that the arrests Wednesday night of three Spring Hill residents at a construction site will end a five-week string of copper-tubing thefts. Thieves have stolen at least $30,000 worth of tubing. Matthew Lippold, 20, and Ronald Lee Algore, 20, were charged with a total of 35 counts of grand theft and were booked into the Hernando County Jail on Thursday.

A 17-year-old girl also was arrested and charged with one count of principle to grand theft. Her name is not being used because of her age.

"Last night, we scored," sheriff's spokesman Frank Bierwiler said Thursday, adding that the two men had admitted to nearly two dozen copper-tubing thefts in Hernando County and an unspecified number of similar thefts in Pasco County.

The Pasco County cases were under investigation Thursday.

Hernando sheriff's Lt. Randy Cramer estimated the value of the stolen tubing at a "conservative $30,000."

Capt. Richard Nugent of the Hernando Sheriff's Office said the thieves were stealing anywhere from 300 to 1,000 feet of half-inch copper tubing from building sites in "seven or eight minutes."

The tubing, used to carry hot and cold water, is placed next to plastic pipes. The thieves usually had two days to steal the tubing from the time it was brought to a construction site until it was covered with concrete.

"Once they get the concrete on, (the builders) are safe," Nugent said.

The copper tubing was sold for just over a $1 a pound at four locations in Tampa, authorities said.

Nugent said deputies had been staking out selected construction sites for the past two weeks, but "we've always been one step behind them."

On Wednesday night, more than 10 deputies, including Nugent, waited at a site in Woodland Waters, a subdivision off U.S. 19 north of State Road 50.

Three people arrived in a truck, which they parked about 100 yards from the construction site, at 9 p.m., Nugent said. Deputies flattened the truck's tires, then arrested the suspects.

Bail for Lippold, charged with 18 counts of grand theft, was set at $50,750; bail for Algore, charged with 17 counts of grand theft, was set at $40,250.

Each man also was charged with five counts of conspiracy to deal in stolen property and one count each of attempted grand theft, resisting arrest without violence, burglary of a structure, felony trespass on a construction site and criminal mischief.

They remained in jail late Thursday.