Oklahoma ex-councilman arrested for using prisoners to steal copper

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 04, 2015 4:24 PM

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A former councilman from an Oklahoma City suburb has been arrested for hiring inmates to steal copper from tornado sirens, leaving a twister-prone area without a working warning system, police said on Thursday.

James Smith, 66, while a councilman in the city of Luther, directed three inmates in a work-release program to remove copper wire and other metals from six tornado sirens during a clean-up in October 2014. He then sold the scrap for $157.95, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel told a news conference.

It will cost taxpayers about $31,000 to repair the sirens. Smith paid the inmates $40 each.

Smith, who served 12 years as a councilman, was charged with seven felonies, including six counts of copper theft from a tornado siren, the first time those charges have been filed in Oklahoma, Whetsel said. He did not have information immediately available on the maximum prison time for the charges.

"It is a tragedy that an elected official destroyed life-saving equipment designed to protect the very people he was elected to represent," said Whetsel.

Luther, with a population of about 1,400, has been hit numerous times by tornadoes in recent years.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmates involved in the theft will not be charged since they were ordered to remove the metal.

Smith is being held on bond of $14,000. No lawyer is listed for him in jail records.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Walsh)