Police ID man arrested in Philadelphia propane tank thefts

Chad Pradelli Image
Thursday, December 31, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Police said one male is in custody and another male has been identified in connection with what they believe is an industrial theft for profit after more than 40 tanks of propane gas were stolen from two facilities in the city.

49-year-old Stephan Williams is charged with: Burglary, Criminal Trespass, Criminal Conspiracy, Criminal Mischief and related offenses.

Williams and another man are believed to be scrappers, police said.

An investigation led police to a lot in the 2600 block of Wheatsheaf Lane where police said they recovered two vehicles and a number of tanks

The location is being held, awaiting a search warrant.

Surveillance footage of the first theft that occurred on Dec. 16 at the Praxair, Welding Gas and Supply Center shows a suspect organizing the tanks, then a Dodge or Chrysler minivan pulls up and the two suspects load the vehicle.

A lookout vehicle, a light-colored Ford Escape, pulls into the parking lot, then pulls away, the video shows. A suspect then emerges from out-of-camera view and hops the razored fence, and later cuts a hole in the fence so the minivan can pull in.

"When you talk about the quantity that's been taken, there's been like 40-something tanks taken, that adds up to a lot of propane that would last you a long time so that's what we are worried about," said Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum of Northeast Detectives.

Investigators believe the industrial thefts are likely for money, but with so many tanks stolen, Homeland Security is involved in the investigation as a precaution.

"What's concerning about some of the sizes of these propane tanks are 100-pound tanks, which hold 100 pounds of propane each," said Rosenbaum.

He tells Action News market prices for propane are at historically-low levels, which has detectives concerned, adding the thieves could be using the stolen loot for a variety of reasons.

The thieves also stole several tanks from James D. Morrissey Inc. Construction on the 4700 block of Pennpack that same night, police said. They returned to Praxair a week later and stole even more tanks.

Neither company had comment.

Police and Homeland Security want people to be on alert.

"We're trying to figure out why," said Rosenbaum. "If anybody has a reason why, you know, we'd like to know."

Police estimate the total street value of the 40 or so tanks at roughly $7,000 dollars.