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Copper Thieves Targeting Light Poles In Northwest Indiana

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Thieves stealing copper wiring in northwest Indiana have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in repairs, and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

The thefts have targeted light poles throughout the area, with thieves in some cases posing as utility workers to make it seem like they're doing legitimate work.

"I'm frustrated, but I can tell you that we know these people are professionals. They're electricians. They know what they're doing," McDermott said.

The mayor said, over the past several months, Hammond police received dozens of reports for copper thefts, but thefts have been rampant in recent weeks.

Gavit High School was hit twice in two weeks, and had to reschedule a Friday night football game against East Chicago Central High School when copper wiring was stolen from the lights at their football field.

Thieves also stole copper wiring from East Chicago Central High School's football and soccer fields this week. Lights have been restored at the football field, but it could take weeks to fix the lights at the soccer field. Repairs there alone cost the district $20,000.

"We're going to go after the bad guys who are doing it, and we're going to go after the businesses, also," stated McDermott. "And I'm going to sue the businesses on behalf of the citizens of Hammond, and we're going to sue for millions. Because they're just as unscrupulous as the people who are stealing the wire. When we catch them, and we will, we're going to ruin these people."

Clark High School also has had copper wiring stolen from the lights at its athletic fields twice this month. Homecoming on Friday will go on as planned after repairs were made.

John Dross from Marble Metal Recycling said copper is one of the highest commodities in the scrap business.

"Right now, clean copper is over $2 a pound," said Dross, explaining Marble Metal only buys from reputable contractors and requires sellers to show identification. He said he reports anything suspicious.

"The people that are reaching into these poles know what they're doing, and I'm telling you if you see people after hours working on these poles, just call the cops. It doesn't matter which city it's in; it could be in Chicago, it could be in Hammond, it could be in East Chicago, it could be in Gary, whatever," McDermott said. "If you see people messing around with light poles, just call the cops."

Anyone with information on the thefts in or near Hammond should call their local police department.

CBS 2's Vi Nguyen and Roseanne Tellez contributed to this report. 

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