Arrest made in copper caper |

Arrest made in copper caper

William Ferchland

A suspected copper thief was arrested in connection with a May telecommunications outage that disrupted crucial services from ATMs to Internet service and e-mail in an area from Lake Tahoe to Placerville, authorities said.

Aaron Gilis, 31, was arrested Thursday morning in Somerset by El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies armed with a search warrant in connection to the copper thefts, according to Lt. Kevin House.

House said Gilis and three others stole copper wiring at an SBC service yard and utility lines, burned off the rubber and sold them as scrap.

Authorities are seeking the whereabouts of three people with suspected involvement in the thefts: 26-year-old Richard Lenning, 55-year-old Linda Wallace and 22-year-old Michael Lenning.

House said the three are believed to be in Reno.

Gilis is being held at El Dorado County Jail in Placerville with bail set at $250,000. He is charged with suspicion of grand theft, receiving stolen property, conspiracy to commit a crime and possession of an assault weapon.

House said unburned copper wire and a giant pair of bolt cutters were discovered at the residence on Outingdale Road.

Some of the copper wire was 2 to 3 inches think in diameter, House said.

“We definitely know we got the people taking the wire down,” he said.

AT&T spokeswoman Vanessa Smith said the company was “grateful” for law enforcement’s efforts on the case.

“We will continue to work with local law enforcement to make sure that all involved are apprehended and prosecuted,” she said.

About three months ago, copper thefts were sprouting with regular occurrence in the county. Sheriff’s detectives called scrap yards in collecting information. One place, Schnitzer Steel in Rancho Cordova, notified investigators of a group of people selling scrap copper, House said.

House guessed the group made a profit of more than $10,000 in selling the precious metal.

Yet the damage from the thefts were estimated at up to $300,000.

“It was just huge,” House said. “It was just gigantic.”

On that late hours of May 15, fax machines, e-mail, ATM and credit card machines and some wireless phones failed to work as the telecommunications outage swept from the Lake Tahoe Basin to Placerville. Most services were restored by late afternoon the next day, but hundreds of thousands of phone calls were cut off while businesses were hit hard by lost revenue.

The disruption in service was caused by dissected copper wiring near Kyburz at an SBC service yard, House said.

Gilis is not cooperating with authorities, House said. The copper thieves would climb utility poles to cut one section of wiring between the poles.

“This is one they intended to keep on doing as long as they could get away with it,” he said.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the three people wanted in connection to the copper thefts is asked to contact Detective Marc Joyce at (530) 642-4722.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.