By Jeff Lehr
Two defendants pleaded guilty Monday to stealing copper wire from utility poles in the wake of the May 22, 2011, tornado that struck Joplin.
Timothy M. Silveria, 45, of Joplin, and Nycoa K. Kracht, 32, of Laurel, Ind., entered open pleas of guilty in Jasper County Circuit Court to felony counts of theft from a public utility. Circuit Judge David Dally ordered the completion of sentencing-assessment reports on the defendants and set their sentencing hearings for July 22.
Silveria and Kracht face up to seven years in prison on the convictions. A co-defendant, Dennis B. Ray, 43, of Joplin, received a three-year prison sentence from Dally in December after pleading guilty to the same charge.
The defendants were arrested on the charge three days after the tornado two years ago when a police officer noticed a truck with Indiana plates parked on 23rd Street east of Main that sported decals for a food distribution company.
The officer testified at a hearing in 2011 that Silveria was outside the truck with bolt cutters and wire in his hands and Ray was loading wire into the bed of the truck. The officer said the truck did not contain any food items.
Silveria told him that they had received permission from another police officer to gather wire in tornado debris that had been pushed to the curb. But he was unable to provide the name of the officer. Kracht, who was sitting in the cab of the truck, denied that they were stealing wire and told the officer that they intended to donate what money they might get for the scrap metal to tornado victims.
There was more than $500 worth of copper in the truck, according to a probable-cause affidavit. Some of the wire appeared to have been cut from utility poles in the area that belonged to the Empire District Electric Co.
Police subsequently discovered a text message on a cellphone taken from Ray during booking procedures at the jail that stated: “I’m going scrappin’ tom and getting me a bus ticket to Ten.”