Court hammers copper thiefPublished 7:32pm Friday, April 13, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — Thieves might want to think twice before attempting to steal copper in Cass County.
Cass County Circuit Court Judge Michael Dodge made it clear Friday the court is taking this type of theft seriously.
Dodge sentenced Michael Knapp, 40, of Marcellus, to a maximum of 15 years in prison for damaging a Cass County farmer’s irrigation system while attempting to steal copper from it.
Dodge said area farmers have been grappling with the problem of copper theft for years.
“They’ve been victimized over and over again by people like yourself,” Dodge said.
On Dec. 26, Knapp tripped an alarm while trying to steal copper from the irrigation system of Cass County farmer Brian McKenzie. Soon after, McKenzie arrived to find Knapp in the process of cutting out the copper wire. Knapp escaped in a vehicle, but was later pulled over by a Cassopolis police officer.
McKenzie said in court his farm has received $40,000 to $50,000 worth of copper theft over the past five years. He installed a $10,000 alarm system to help stop thieves, while seeing his insurance premiums increase $5,000.
“My farm has probably experienced in the range of $65,000 worth of damage from copper theft,” he said.
McKenzie asked the judge to send thieves a message by giving Knapp the maximum sentence.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Frank Machnik agreed.
“The hard working farmers of Cass County are the ones who suffer for this,” he said.
Defense attorney Dale Blunier said his client was stealing copper in order to pay for a substance abuse habit.
Knapp is a habitual offender with three prior felony convictions.
He was sentenced to a minimum of 46 months with a maximum of 15 years for malicious destruction of property $1,000 to $20,000. He was sentenced to 34 months with a maximum of 15 years for attempted larceny $1,000 to $20,000. He gets credit for 110 days served. Sentences are concurrent.