Police say two men from Waterville were caught red-handed by a cadre of police officers from four law enforcement agencies early Monday after trying to steal thousands of dollars’ worth of copper pipe from a vacant home in Waterville’s South End.

Statistics suggest that, while burglaries are decreasing in Maine, the number of people trying to cash in on stolen copper is increasing.

Kevin Daniel Hubert, 32, and Sean A. Rancourt, a 29-year-old house painter, both of Waterville, were found inside an unoccupied building at 7 Summer Street after suspicious neighbors called police to report that they could see flashlights moving around in the building’s interior, according to Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department.

Rumsey said that when the call came in shortly before midnight on Sunday, officers called on the Maine State Police and departments in Winslow and Oakland to help surround the building.

When officers entered the building, they found Rancourt hiding in the attic and Hubert hiding beneath the stairs in the basement, Rumsey said.

After Hubert and Rancourt were arrested, police searched the building and said they found hacksaws and power saws beside a large pile of copper piping that had been cut out and stacked up. Rumsey said luggage was being used to transport the copper out of the house. Rumsey said police believe the pair entered the home through a basement window, which had been broken and then removed.

Each man has been charged with burglary and aggravated criminal mischief, both class C felonies, as well as criminal trespass and possession of burglar’s tools, both class E misdemeanors.

Rancourt was also arrested on a warrant for failure to appear in Waterville District Court and for a probation hold.

The combined penalty for the crimes is more than 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines, according to the office of the Maine Attorney General.

Cash bail was set at $1,500 for Hubert and $1,750 for Rancourt. Neither made bail and both are currently being held at Kennebec County jail.

The theft of copper from construction sites and empty buildings has become a persistent problem in Maine, where officials say the overall crime rate has fallen, but high prices for scrap copper has created a thriving underground market.

After three years of increases between 2009 and 2011, the number of burglaries reported in Maine has been going down over the last two years, according to figures from the Maine Department of Public Safety.

In Maine as a whole, there were 6,453 burglaries reported in 2013, a 13 percent decrease from the 7,429 reported in 2012. In rural Maine, the decrease was steeper, from 2748 in 2012 to 2232 in 2013, a decrease of about 19 percent.

Despite this, Maine is the seventh-worst state in the nation when it comes to the rate of copper thefts, and the raw number of copper thefts has gone up dramatically nationwide, according to statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau

Between 2010 and 2012, the number of claims nationally for stolen copper was 32,568, a 36 percent increase over the 25,083 claims filed between 2006 and 2008.

Maine saw 250 copper thefts between 2010 and 2012, a rate of 18.8 claims per 100,000 residents, making copper theft more common here than in all but six states — Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Rhode Island, where the copper theft rate is the worst in the nation with 29.4 claims per 100,000 residents.

According to a 2008 report from the FBI, copper theft is buoyed by a robust international market driven by demand from China and other rapidly developing nations. The demand keeps copper prices high, which means recyclers will pay higher prices for copper.

There have been several high-profile copper thefts in central Maine recently. In August, $3,000 worth of copper was stolen from four Central Maine Power Co. vehicles in Fairfield. In 2012, a Hartland man was charged with stealing 300 pounds of copper from the under-construction Starks power station where he was employed as a security guard. Also in 2012, FairPoint Communications offered rewards of up to $5,000 after losing tens of thousands of dollars to copper thieves in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Over the past 10 years, Hubert and Rancourt have been convicted of various crimes in the area ranging from driving violations to burglary.

In 2001, Hubert, then 19, was fined $100 in Waterville District Court for sale and use of drug paraphernalia. In 2004, Hubert was sentenced to 364 days in jail with all but 14 days suspended for cultivating marijuana after being arrested during a two-week state-wide sweep that resulted in a variety of drug charges against 14 people. In 2006, he was fined $75 for operating after registration suspended by Waterville District Court. In 2010, he was assessed a $300 fine in Kennebec County Superior Court for violating conditions of release.

In 2003, Rancourt, then 18, was arrested with another man and charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault after police charged that the pair beat and robbed a third man with a metal pipe at gunpoint. At the time, Rancourt was already on juvenile probation for burglary. In 2004, Rancourt was sentenced in Waterville District Court to 20 days in jail for furnishing liquor to a minor. In 2005, he was sentenced to a total of 36 months in jail for unlawful possession of scheduled drugs and cultivating marijuana in Waterville District Court. In 2011, he was fined $200 in Augusta District Court for failing to notify of a motor vehicle accident.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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