Miami Beach

Miami Beach employee charged with grand theft over $23K worth of stolen copper wire

Miami Herald File

Miami Beach officials say a street light technician slowly stole and sold city-owned copper wire and aluminum over the course of three years, netting himself about $23,000.

Beach cops followed up on a tip that Manuel Perez, a streetlight technician, regularly took copper wire and aluminum from the city and sold it to a scrap metal business in Miami. According to police, receipts show Perez made $23,715.05 over the course of three years from selling the metal.

Perez, 57, was arrested Friday and charged with one count of second-degree grand theft. He was being held Friday on $12,500 bond at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

Two other technicians, Jorge Fernandez and Gustavo Valbuena, also have been suspended in connection with the theft. They have not been charged.

Investigators say they followed Perez on five occasions in November and December as he cut up wire in his city bucket truck in city parks, threw bags of it into his personal car and drove across the bay to Federal Metals at 2782 NW North River Drive.

Cops say Perez would cut up copper wire and aluminum to sell. Each load — dozens of pounds of metal stuffed into bags — made him between $80 and $130.

According to his arrest report, Perez admitted to taking and selling the metal when cops confronted him at his home Dec. 15. Two days later, he was suspended.

City spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez said the employees have been suspended — not fired — as the internal investigation continues.

“The city will continue to move forward with disciplinary action,” she said.

In a statement, City Manager Jimmy Morales decried the situation.

“It is a terrible shame and disservice to the many dedicated men and women of the City of Miami Beach’s administration that the actions of these public employees have led to today’s action,” he said. “We will continue to set on a course of professionalism, accountability and transparency to ensure the public has full confidence in our organization.”

The city is continuing its investigation.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech