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Iowa Police Hold Suspects in Campground Faucet Heist

March 23, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

A Mingo, Iowa, couple had a lot of brass, Des Moines police allege.

The two are in custody in connection with the disappearance of hundreds of water faucets from the Iowa State Fair campgrounds, the Des Moines Register reported.

Michael Lee Stover, 57, and Elizabeth Jean Stover, 44, are charged with second-degree theft by exercising control over stolen property. They are not accused of stealing the faucets, but rather of having control over them.

Police said the couple denied stealing the faucets but did not disclose a name of a person or persons who had. A retired Des Moines police sergeant noted the brass faucets had been sold to a scrap metal dealer.

Last week, investigators reported that about 400 water faucets had been stolen. A final inventory showed the number was closer to 500. At $30 each, the thefts represented a replacement loss of some $15,000.

Lori Chappell, the State Fair’s marketing director, said about 300 faucets had been recovered by Tuesday afternoon. It appears they are in good enough shape to be used again.

“That’s money we don’t have to take from someplace else to replace them,” she said.

Police said they found the names of the people who sold the faucets – the Stovers – at American Scrap in Des Moines, then went to their home in Mingo on Tuesday morning.

Sgt. David Murillo said retired police Sgt. Ralph Roth noticed the transaction at the scrap yard.

“People should know that we have a civilian employee with more than 30 years’ experience as a police officer watching for these things,” Murillo said. “And the scrap yards are good partners with the police department. It all came together on this one.”

Officers were sent to the fairgrounds last Thursday to take a report of the thefts. The faucets reportedly were taken over several weeks.

Police said each water faucet consists of a spout, handle and pressure regulator. Near the pressure regulator the components are made of brass. Investigators thought from the start that thieves were taking them for their scrap value.

Metal thefts have been common in recent years because of high prices for scrap metal. Police have investigated thefts of metal bleachers from athletic fields, power lines from utility poles and even hardware from cemeteries.

“Thieves spent a tremendous amount of time removing the faucets, so we know they are not afraid of hard work,” Murillo said. “It’s just channeled in the wrong direction.”

The State Fair campgrounds are more than 160 acres with some 1,800 campsites. Chappell said the grounds are patrolled regularly. But she said it is not surprising that thieves could escape notice.

The thefts were spread over a long period, and a person on foot could come into the fairgrounds from a number of directions.

According to Iowa law, second-degree theft is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $7,500.

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