HAMMOND — The city has filed a civil lawsuit to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars and more in damages stemming from a string of copper thefts this summer.
The lawsuit, filed in Lake Superior Court, alleges Jossean M. Echevarria, of Hammond, and Diquan N. Ray, of Burnham, Illinois, spent more than three months stealing copper wire from city lights.
“I want these guys to know that Hammond isn’t going to just stand by and let this happen. They will pay the price criminally I hope, but these two and people like them will also pay the heavy price of a civil money judgment hanging over their heads when they get out,” Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in a news release.
Both Echeverria and Ray have been charged with federal crimes of transporting stolen property across state lines.
Echevarria and Ray stole an estimated 50,000 linear feet of copper wire. At an estimated $10 per foot, Hammond's loss is approximately $500,000, the city's lawsuit claims.
Copper wire was pilfered from various locations in Hammond this summer, including Irving Park on July 20; Forsythe Park on Aug. 4 and 14; People's Park on Aug. 13; Harrison Park on Sept. 10; and Hermit Park on Sept. 13. Copper wire from several city poles were also stolen on various days, the suit states.
Copper wire was also stolen from Hammond High School on Aug. 20; Gavit High School on Sept. 10; the Civic Center on Sept. 17 and the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology on Sept. 22.
Echeverria and Ray were apprehended Sept. 24 by Hammond police after allegedly trying to commit a theft of wire from a Calumet City park.
The city was a victim of trespass, theft and conversion of lighting pole copper wire at numerous properties from July 20 through Sept. 20, the complaint reads.
The complaint states Echeverria and Ray "did not have permission by Hammond to access or authorize control over the copper wire, which was the property of Hammond," and when arrested Sept. 24, had large amounts of copper wire in their vehicle.
“The United States Attorney’s office in Hammond has done an outstanding job in ensuring these two will face stiff penalties if convicted. I appreciate United States Attorney Thomas Kirsch’s partnership and willingness to help our city,” McDermott said.
The city is seeking the courts to award them $1.5 million in "treble damages," or triple the amount of actual damages, as allowed by statute.
Both men were arrested about 2 a.m. Sept. 24 after their vehicle was stopped by police officers at the intersection of Detroit Street and Lyman Avenue in Hammond, documents state.
Echevarria and Ray entered not guilty pleas during arraignment hearings last month.