Crime blotter: Pipe jobs

class=img_thumbleft>On July 10th, at about 10:30 p.m. St. Paul police officers were called to the former Stroh's Brewery on Minnehaha Avenue to investigate a burglary.

When officers entered the facility, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court earlier this month, they observed a man inspecting some copper piping running along the ceiling. The suspect was wearing a hard hat, headlamp, and gloves. There were broken hacksaw blades on the ground around him.

The man was eventually identified as Michael Dean Wright, a 38-year-old unemployed resident of Newport. He was subsequently charged with third degree burglary and possession of burglary or theft tools.

Such scenes have become commonplace at the long-defunct East Side Brewery. "I believe this is the sixth case in the last three months and we prosecute all of them," says Curt Lange, administrator for Everest LLC, which owns part of the roughly 25-acre facility. "Many of them have been caught."

Police have been called to the facility 18 times so far this year. Lange estimates that two to three times a week someone breaks into the brewery with the intention of stealing either copper, brass, or steel piping. Local scrap metal yards will pay these freelance entrepreneurs up to a $1.20 a pound for the metals. (See Mike Mosedale's July, 2004 piece for more on this phenomenon.)

Lange attributes the problem primarily to drug usage and slum properties in the surrounding neighborhood. "Most of these people are just crackheads," he says. "It's the absentee landlords; it's the drug dealers. You can not go up Payne Avenue at night without running into drug dealers."

The company has taken numerous steps to try and secure the brewery. They've welded doors shut so that burglars can't enter from the municipal sewer system. Razor wire tops the fence surrounding the facility and logging chains have been attached to the doors. But somehow people continue to find a way in.

On February 7th, for instance, Michael Gilday was in Swede Hollow Park shooting a film with friends when he spotted two teenagers enter the park. "They were dressed really, really nice," Gilday recalls, "like they'd just come from church." He watched as they slipped through the fencing of the adjacent Stroh's Brewery and disappeared.

The pair emerged some time later dragging what Gilday describes as a roughly 200 pound slab of copper piping. "They were going along slipping, sliding in the slush," he says. "It was pretty comical."

Gilday eventually reported the theft to the police, including the tag number for the Ford Probe they were driving. The perpetrators, however, have never been caught.

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