SAN MANUEL, Ariz. -- Pinal County sheriff's deputies arrested two men suspected of stealing copper wire from a San Manuel mine.
Investigators said Victor Gutierrez, 46, and Mark Jimenez, 34, used a hand-dug tunnel to enter into the mine shaft and steal the copper.
During the past year, the sheriff's office has investigated several reported thefts of copper wire from the BHP Mine located at 200 S. Veterans Memorial Blvd.
A deputy doing a security check of the property Saturday night heard the sound of movement inside the tunnel and called for additional deputies to respond.
Gutierrez soon stuck his head out of the top of the tunnel and was taken into custody. Deputies then climbed into the tunnel and located Jimenez.
Sheriff's office spokesman Tim Gaffney said both men were wearing headlamps so they could see inside of the tunnel.
The investigation revealed that the suspects had damaged and removed more than $10,000 worth of copper.
Deputies and property crime detectives were able to recover several 30-foot-long sections of copper wire, which weighed approximately 500 pounds.
Both suspects reportedly admitted to stealing large quantities of copper during the past year. According to Gaffney, the suspects said they would steal the copper and either burn off or strip the plastic coating on the wire so they could sell it in Tucson.
BHP Mine officials reported that it has cost several hundred thousand dollars to replace and repair the stolen copper during just the past year alone.
"Many of the suspects who steal copper wire are doing it to support their illegal drugs habits," Sheriff Paul Babeu said. "Both Victor and Mark have a past history of arrests for possession and use of illegal drugs. I am sure the money made from these crimes was used to support their drug habits. Deputies and detectives did a great job working together to put these two suspects behind bars."
Gutierrez and Jimenez, both of San Manuel, were booked into the Pinal County Adult Detention Center for trafficking in stolen property, burglary, aggravated criminal damage and possession of burglary tools.
Gutierrez is being held on a $20,000 bond and Jimenez is being held on a $2,500 bond.