Police: Electric shock leads to 'godfather of copper' arrest


Investigators in Lower Pottsgrove and the surrounding townships say the copper thieves had been on a three year run, ripping off the copper out of five area substations.

But then, in March, they got a break when Harris Wilkinson allegedly pressed his luck one too many times.

Police say while robbing a Berks County substation, a surge of electricity went through Wilkinson's body, severely disabling him and hospitalizing him for several months.

"Subsequently we developed these four suspects and were able to put a case together with common scheme and design," Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Michael Foltz said.

Police say Wilkinson quickly turned on his alleged coconspirators, his wife Heather Wilkinson, Christopher Schade, and Ronald Neuman, who detectives say was the mastermind.

His alleged accomplices called Neuman the "godfather of copper."

"I know in at least one case there was between 80 and 100 pounds taken in just one breach," Foltz said.

The copper bandits would then take the valuable metal to a scrap yard and cash it in to use on drugs, beer, and cigarettes, according to investigators.

Action News tried to contact the scrap yard's owners to see if they knew that the copper was stolen, but the place was closed for the day and our phone calls have not been returned.

Police say the suspects even hit one substation that serves as the backup power to the Limerick nuclear power plant.

Authorities warn the thefts not only could have left customers without power, but put PECO and Exelon workers at extreme risk.

"In this case, these workers are coming in not even knowing these wires have been cut out and depending where they walk, it could be a daily route they take is now electrified and could be very dangerous," Foltz said.

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