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Copper Criminals Circling The Drain

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A group of South Florida plumbers feel that their costly investments may be going down the drain in a series of unusual crimes, and the suspects are getting away with it all.

The owners of V&D Plumbing and Island Plumbing are two of the companies who have seen their businesses targeted for fast cash.

Victor Diaz, of V&D Plumbing, has been a part of the plumbing business for 20 years and is just one of the many victims of the carjacking.

"You see another guy going in front of the van going in," said Diaz as he watched the surveillance video of his van being stolen. "He has something in his hand that pushes the lock of the truck and right away, the front door opens."

So what is the reward for this epidemic of plumbing van thefts? According to Diaz, they want copper.

Dozens of vans have been stolen in search of the metal. Once stolen, the van's contents are stripped to take to the scrap metal yard. After the thieves stash the cash, they leave the van, often in the heart of Liberty City.

The owner of Island Plumbing, Luis Bergouignan, has had seven of his vans stolen in the last few months. He said after the copper; they go for the tools and equipment.

"We're losing about $10,000 worth of equipment. They are probably getting a thousand at most. It's quick cash to them, whatever they can pick up for it, that's what they get," said Bergouignan.

Juan Reyes, another employee at Island Plumbing agreed.

"Bottom line -its people that feel that it's easier to steal than go out and work for it," Reyes said. "It kills us, that's the bottom line, it kills us."

Employees have become so frustrated that they have been known to even take matters into their own hands.

The plumbing vans are equipped with tracking devices, which led Bergouignan to track one van's movements in real time on the computer while it was being stolen. That is when the pursuit of the van started and a mini posse of plumbers went after it.

"Once we got on scene; we saw the guys with the van parked next to the house taking tools, equipment, parts from the van into the house," said Reyes. "I yelled at the guys to stop."

Reyes, his brother, as well as another plumber admitted that they were armed that night. The next thing he knew, he saw some of the neighbors come out of their homes with guns as well.

Reyes told DeFede that it took about 10 to 15 minutes for the police to show up, but when the first cop came to the scene, about 12 more arrived in a few seconds.

Despite catching the thieves red-handed, those responsible received no jail time. What angers Bergouignan and Reyes most is the impact these thefts have on their company.

"When one of these vans is taken it hurts us a great deal," explained Reyes. "Our company, we employ about 35 employees, so it's not just us and our families, it our employees and their families, so there is a lot of food being put on the table."

Not only are the plumbers concerned about the economics, but Diaz said it can take a plumber a long time to assemble the right collection of tools that suits him.

"Jesus, it took years to get all those tools and just like that they are gone. I didn't feel that good that day," said Diaz.

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