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CROWN POINT — A vehicle used to haul stolen copper Saturday from a Cook County forest preserve was under police surveillance for several days, according to recently filed court documents.

Diquan N. Ray, 23, of Burnham, Illinois, and Jossean M. Eschevarria, 30, of Hammond, were each charged Saturday in Lake Criminal Court with theft, a level 6 felony.

Both men pleaded not guilty to charges at initial court hearings Monday, documents state. Ray was appointed a public defender to represent him on charges. Eschevarria, who also spells his name Echevarria, said he would hire private counsel.

Late Monday night, the U.S. attorney's office in Hammond said in a news release the men are charged in federal court with interstate transportation of stolen property. 

Both men were arrested about 2 a.m. Saturday after their vehicle was stopped by police officers at the intersection of Detroit Street and Lyman Avenue in Hammond, documents state.

Officers found a large amount of coiled copper wire in the backseat of the vehicle. Both men had “very dirty hands and wet-dirty clothing and shoes,” documents state.

The vehicle was apparently under surveillance by law enforcement officers for several days before the men were arrested, documents state.

Before they were stopped in Hammond, Indiana and Illinois police officers were watching the vehicle, which was parked for several hours Friday night outside River Oaks Mall in Calumet City, Illinois.

Officers observed Ray and Eschevarria exit a nearby Cook County forest preserve and enter the vehicle about 11:30 p.m. They drove into the forest preserve and left about two hours later.

The vehicle rode low to the ground, suggesting it was carrying a heavy load, documents state.

Police went into the woods and discovered several electrical boxes and light poles were damaged and missing wire.

The men's arrests came a day after the city of Hammond offered a $25,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and prosecution of the suspects responsible for a rash of wire thefts in Northwest Indiana and neighboring communities in Illinois.

Hammond police Lt. Steven Kellogg said Sunday the two men are the primary suspects in the wire theft spree, but additional suspects may be identified and charged as the investigation continued.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Sunday he wanted the FBI to intervene and file federal charges.

Ray has a formal court appearance Oct. 10. Eschevarria is scheduled for court Oct. 12.

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.