WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah, April 4, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Eleven men are facing charges after a string of Comcast alpha-cell battery thefts that began in 2017.
A news release from the West Valley City Police Department said that several months of investigation by the WVCPD into the theft of around $1 million worth of alpha-cell batteries along the Wasatch Front has resulted in charges against the 11 suspects being screened with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
The investigation was conducted in conjunction with efforts from the Unified Police Department and the United States Marshal Service.
“The thefts of these batteries began occurring in multiple counties and cities, including West Valley City, around 2017,” the news release said. “The heavy industrial batteries provide backup power for cable, broadband and 911 phone service during power outages and are valued at approximately $180 each. The stolen batteries can be sold to metal recyclers for lead and other metals, averaging proceeds of $15-20 per battery.”
The batteries are housed in secured steel utility boxes, but thieves had been able to break into the vaults containing the batteries, cut wires connecting the batteries, and then haul the batteries away to be sold for scrap, the news release said. The act of stealing these batteries was taking only minutes and made it very difficult to identify any suspects in the multiple cases.
Investigators got a break July 31, 2018, when an alert citizen got a photo of a suspect stealing batteries from a utility box in Holladay, as well as the vehicle the suspect was driving.
“Detective Steve Jensen of the West Valley Police Department was able to utilize this photo to issue an alert for the suspect vehicle, which resulted in a traffic stop of the vehicle by a West Valley City Police Officer,” the news release said. “Using the officer’s Body Worn Camera video from that stop, Detective Jensen was able to confirm that the driver of the vehicle matched the suspect in the suspect photo from the battery theft. Through this initial break in the case and many hours of investigative work, West Valley City Police investigators were able to develop extensive information about suspects and suspect vehicles.”
In August of 2018, Comcast placed multiple bait batteries in various locations throughout the state, the news release said. The bait batteries allowed Comcast personnel to identify when a battery was being removed from its power source, as well as provided the ability to follow the battery’s physical location.
“Utilizing information gained from the bait batteries, investigators were able to connect stolen batteries to those identified as suspects as well as to the suspect vehicles,” the news release said.
“By tracking the batteries, investigators were also able to uncover locations where the batteries were being sold for scrap and recover receipts for the sale of the batteries that bore the names of suspects in the case. This effort also resulted in the recovery of some of the stolen batteries.”
West Valley City Police Detectives and the agencies who have assisted then identified suspects in multiple thefts occurring throughout Salt Lake, Davis, and Summit counties, and evidence of their involvement in this extensive theft operation has been gathered.
Charges have been screened with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office against 11 people and the widespread thefts of these batteries have virtually stopped.
At this time, charges have been formally filed against Mark Hasselblad, 40.
Charges against the remaining 10 people have been screened and are pending formal filing. The release of their names is pending those charges being filed. The screened charges include felony theft, felony criminal mischief (infrastructure), and in some cases, felony pattern of unlawful activity and felony money laundering.