Five arrested in ship channel copper theft ring

Arrested: Jose Ricardo Linares, 32

March 10, 2011 2:19:53 PM PST
A security guard at a company on the Houston Ship Channel is one of five men charged with engaging in organized criminal activity for stealing $100,000 in copper. According to court documents, the men are accused of stealing 22,740 pounds of copper in January from a warehouse on Manchester along the ship channel.

The manager of the warehouse discovered four pallets of sheet copper were missing January 27. Each pallet weighed 5,685 pounds.

The stolen copper was traced back to several men when the Houston Police Department conducted checks to find large amounts of copper sold to scrap metal businesses in Houston, officials said.

Investigators found the stolen copper at three separate scrap metal businesses. Police said Carlos Ernesto Linares, 34, sold two loads for more than $12,000. Jose Pedro Serpas sold six loads, also for around $12,000. Juan Ramon Vargas, 39, is accused of selling four loads for more than $10,000.

Anytime you sell scrap metal, a scrap ticket is filled out with your driver's license number, pictures of the material you sold and your vehicle information. From these tickets, officers were able to track down Linares, Serpas and Vargas.

According to HPD, the next discovery came when a U.S. Customs agent checked the employee roster at the facility where the copper was stolen. Carlos Linares' brother, 32-year-old Jose Ricardo Linares, was employed as a night shift security guard at the warehouse.

HPD interviews with the suspects revealed the plan to steal copper from the facility. Court documents state that an unknown employee of the facility asked security guard Jose Linares to recruit several people to steal and transport the copper in exchange for cash.

Jose Linares then recruited his brother and the three others for the job. He also hired Vargas' uncle -- 49-year-old Rafael Alfredo Fabian -- to drive the transport truck used to take the copper to the scrap yards.

All five men were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a second degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If you have any information about this crime or similar illegal activity, call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.