Authorities said two suspects literally went underground to steal thousands of dollars worth of copper wire Saturday.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office reported Victor Gutierrez, 46, and Mark Jimenez, 34, both of San Manuel, were arrested by deputies after they were caught in a hand-dug tunnel that led to the BHP mine in San Manuel.
A deputy was making his routine security rounds at the closed mine when he came across the tunnel used previously by copper thieves and heard something move inside, according to a sheriff's office spokesman.
After backup deputies arrived, Gutierrez, wearing a headlamp, stuck his head out of the tunnel and was greeted by the barrels of the deputies' guns, the spokesman said.
Gutierrez denied anyone else was in the tunnel, but deputies later found Jimenez inside the tunnel, ordered him out and took him into custody.
Deputies later determined the suspects had damaged and removed more than $10,000 worth of copper, and several 30-foot-long sections of copper wire weighing approximately 500 pounds were recovered, the spokesman said.
Both suspects admitted to stealing copper during the past year and either burning off or stripping the plastic coating on the wire so they could sell it in Tucson, the spokesman said.
BHP reported that it has cost them several hundred thousand dollars to replace and repair the stolen copper from thefts in the past year alone.
Gutierrez and Jimenez were booked on suspicion of trafficking in stolen property, burglary, aggravated criminal damage and possession of burglary tools. Gutierrez was being held on a $20,000 bond and Jimenez on a $2,500 bond.
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