SPRING HILL — Hernando County authorities have arrested a third suspect in connection with a series of air-conditioning thefts that plagued the county earlier this month.
The thieves disassembled the air-conditioning units to remove metal components that they later intended to sell.
Shane Edward Winn, 24, was charged Thursday with more than a dozen crimes. His bail was set at $119,000.
Police say similar thefts have occurred around the state with increasing frequency, as the dismal economy moves some people to crime. In Hernando County dozens of thefts of air conditioners have occurred in the past several weeks alone, as thieves take the copper and aluminum tubing inside and sell it for scrap.
Police saw an increase in AC thefts going back to last year.
“It’s not a new thing, but it’s a more prevalent thing at this time because everyone’s out of a job and the economy is bad,” Sgt. Richard LaCerra, a criminal investigations supervisor with the Broward Sheriff’s Office told the Sun Sentinel. “People are trying to make a quick buck.”
Thieves favor businesses over homes because they are less conspicuous poking around air conditioners facing alleys or parking lots than in someone’s back yard, police said. Buildings left vacant by the wobbly economy also present opportunities.
“Foreclosed houses, abandoned office buildings, those are targets,” LaCerra said. “They target churches because usually no one’s in the church but maybe one, two, three times a week.”
The cold air industry pegs copper theft as costing more than $1 billion a year. Helping to spur the thefts is the price of copper, which at hovers in the $4 a pound range. Formerly a crime of opportunity for street people, copper theft is now attracting a more professional class of criminal.