Detectives say two Anchorage brothers stole more than $100,000 worth of copper wire from local businesses this spring and summer, at least in part to support their drug habit.
With one man behind bars, police are looking for the other, who escaped from a halfway house Tuesday.
Michael Rebisch and his younger brother, Shawn Rebisch, face multiple counts of felony theft, burglary and criminal trespassing. Michael, 45, is in custody, but police are still looking for Shawn, 32.
According to the charges against them, a business owner tracked the theft of about $2,200 in copper welding cables in March to a local recycling business that paid Shawn Rebisch for it. The rightful owner had burned a piece of wire in a specific spot and was able to identify it at the recycler's yard, and the recycler had a picture of Shawn's drivers license, the charges say.
That set Anchorage Police theft detectives Darren Hernandez and Sean Purcell on the trail of the Rebisch brothers. They soon learned the duo had been stealing much higher quantities of copper wire on spools by cutting fences, in one case by loading the spools -- one worth about $30,000 and another worth $50,000 -- into a dump truck they then stole to transport it, the charges say.
Thieves will steal copper, strip off the plastic coating and sell it to recyclers for a few dollars a pound, Hernandez said. About 90 percent of copper wire recycled by individuals, as opposed to reclamation businesses, is stolen, the detectives said.
"Every copper theft that we've done, we come across some kind of drugs or paraphernalia," Hernandez said. "That's how they pay for their drugs."
The Rebisch brothers had "mass amounts" of used syringes in their possession, Hernandez said. Along with the copper, the men also burgled various tools, which ultimately led to their downfall, Hernandez said. The detectives caught up with the Rebisches at a local hotel in early May.
"When we made contact in the hotel room, there were syringes in plain view," Hernandez said. "I saw all these tools, and I'm like, 'Wow, those are a lot of tools.' They were unemployed, from what we were told."
The tools matched the descriptions of items missing after several of the copper thefts, allowing the detectives to link the brothers to the thefts, Hernandez said.
Some of the evidence led the detectives to Alcan Electrical & Engineering, where an employee said he'd known Shawn since he and his brother were children and that the younger Rebisch had once been on track to become a licensed electrician before getting into drugs.
While Hernandez and Purcell continued to gather evidence, at least one of the brothers was still busy stealing wire, Hernandez said.
Michael Rebisch was charged July 22 with felony theft after a patrol officer drove past a construction yard and saw him doing something to a fence, Hernandez said. Michael claimed he worked at the business, the detective said.
"He was literally cutting the fence, and he told officers that he was repairing it," Hernandez said.
The business owner arrived a short time later and confirmed that Michael Rebisch did not work there.
Police are still trying to track down Shawn Rebisch after he escaped from the Cordova House on Tuesday. When officers with the Department of Corrections arrived at the halfway house to arrest Shawn, he bolted, Hernandez said.
"Someone went upstairs and said, 'Hey there's someone here to serve you an arrest warrant,' and Shawn escaped down the fire escape," Hernandez said.
In a written statement Thursday, police described Shawn Rebisch as 5-feet, 10-inches tall and 200 pounds, with either a shaved head or brown hair.
Police ask that anyone with information on Shawn Rebisch call them at 786-8900.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.