Three traveling scam artists claiming to be Cherokee Nation members running an arts and crafts program for disabled children lifted 42,500 pounds of scrap copper wire off a Seattle utility, reported SeattlePi.com.
According to King County prosecutors Michael George and Jim Costa, who go by “Chief Little Bear” and “Joe Wolf” during their heists, and Costa's son Nick, made off with the wire valued at $120,000 after the Seattle City Light manager agreed to donate 100 pounds of wire to their charity. The men insisted they had a bus packed with 35 children circling the block and would need the wire immediately.
After a utility executive showed the men the wire they could take from a storage unit, they managed to load 21 tons of copper wire into two rented cargo vans.
City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said the stolen wire has been recovered in Fort Worth, Texas, where it had been shipped.
“Unfortunately, we were victimized by these con artists,” Thomsen told SeattlePi.com. “These guys are professional at this.”
The trio is suspected of operating similar cons as far back as 1989 in Washington State, as well as in Mississippi, Maine and Texas.
In April, they ran a string of heists in Washington. A week prior to stealing the copper wire at City Light, the men talked workers at SAFE Boats International in Tacoma, Washington, into giving them a tour of their facility and made off with a box truck of scrap aluminum. The following day, they ripped off the Puyallup office of large utility construction and maintenance firm Potelco.
The men were caught when they took the stolen metal from SAFE Boats to a Portland recycler, receiving $8,600. Portland police arrested George and Jim Costa, but Nick Costa allegedly fled the scene and emptied the box truck, which was found in a Portland suburb. The three men, who are not in custody, are scheduled to be arraigned Monday in King County Superior Court.
In all their scams, the men presented themselves as Cherokees hoping to help children, prosecutors charge.
“It is my belief that the suspects are very organized and detailed in carrying out this scam and have gone to great lengths to pull it off,” the detective said in charging papers.
“In this case,” he continued, “it appears that several members of the same family are involved.”