Sheriff’s Office nabs 2021 copper wire thieves

(file photo by Ryan Lewallen/County 17)

Two Wright men have been charged with conspiracy, theft, and destruction of property after they allegedly caused $82,000 in damage while working together to steal copper wire in southern Campbell County, authorities said Friday.

James Cody, 28, and Hunter Allguer, 27, have both been charged with multiple felonies for a series of wire thefts that reportedly occurred over several months in 2021 where they allegedly stole around $9,000 of copper wire from various locations near Wright, according to Josh Knittel, an investigator with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).

Between the months of June and November 2021, Cody and Allguer conspired to steal wire from compressor stations located along the Cosner, Matheson, Edwards, Wagensen, Hilight, and Breene roads, according to affidavits of probable cause filed in the case, which add that similar incidents occurred on Melicia Drive and on Highway 450.

The two suspects repeatedly cut down power poles with what appeared to be a reciprocating saw to access the wire on some incidents, while on others they merely chose to sever the wire above junction boxes and left the poles intact. At other times, the suspects stole wire directly from control panels and cut through aluminum piping to access wire on both de-energized and live power stations, court documents state.

During a total of 12 incidents, Cody and Allguer allegedly stole between 15 and 500 feet of wire that they then took back to Allguer’s residence in Wright where they stripped it and then sold it to BJ Salvage in Gillette the following mornings, per the affidavits.

The wire was not flagged as suspicious due to the amount of copper wire that BJ Salvage takes in, Knittel said on Jan. 14.

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“The salvage yard that they were taking it to, takes in a lot of copper wire,” Knittel said. “[The attendant] did say that people were bringing that stuff in, but he couldn’t remember who it was.”

Investigators did check the salvage yard for evidence of stolen wire, the size and thickness of which made it easily identifiable as power line wire, but once the insulation was removed there were no identifying marks left, per Knittel.

Between June and November, court documents state, the suspects collected checks from BJ Salvage in Gillette for copper wire, aluminum, and scrap metal. In that time, Cody received 13 checks in various amounts ranging from $90 up to $605 while Allguer collected 9 checks from $246 up to $1,486.

The investigation failed to produce any suspects with investigators employing new tactics and staking out likely locations to catch the perpetrators in the act, Knittel said, adding that the CCSO and Powder River Energy (PRE), one of the victims affected by the thefts, began working together to put out trail cameras to monitor locations.

It was not until Nov. 10, two days after Western Gas Resources’ Little Powder River Booster Station off Highway 450 had been hit, that investigators caught a break in the case.

At approximately 10 p.m. that night, PRE employees observed a vehicle that was driving strangely, repeatedly slowing down and speeding up as it traveled on Highway 450, according to the affidavits.

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They watched it turn off the highway into the entrance of the Little Powder River Booster Station and immediately called law enforcement to report it, court documents say.

A trail camera captured images of Allguer and Cody outside of a maroon 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe, which PRE employees had also seen at Hanks Roadside Bar and Grill earlier in the evening. Surveillance from Hanks reportedly showed Allguer purchasing items and gasoline before driving south on Highway 59, according to the affidavits.

Warrants were executed at Cody’s and Allguer’s residences within minutes of each other on Nov. 12, where evidence of the thefts- including pieces of uncut wire and sheathing identified as a match to the stolen wire by PRE employees- was located, court documents state.

Allguer was arrested on Jan. 14 and Cody was arrested on Jan. 11, over two months since the most recently reported incident during which time investigators have been in contact with both suspects.

Neither suspect appeared to be a significant flight risk, based on their ties to the community, which is why they weren’t immediately arrested, according to Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds.

Both Cody and Allguer have been charged with felony conspiracy to commit theft, 12 counts of felony destruction of property, as well as felony theft, according to CCSO arrest records.