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Building site thefts stall Falls school project

It will take contractors an extra month to complete the installation of about 60 large windows at the new Niagara Street Elementary School because of the work of one thief.

Project manager Kelley Culp said the delay was caused because half the "aluminum splines" needed to help frame the windows were stolen from the site at 25th and Niagara streets, along with six spools of copper wire, on two separate occasions. The total loss was estimated at more than $30,000.

The thefts occurred Nov. 24 and Dec. 21, City Police Detective Roger Freeman said.

A 99th Street man has been arrested twice following the incidents, Freeman said this week.

Culp said the thefts triggered the delay because the colored splines are custom-made, and new ones had to be ordered. The pieces were stolen during the first theft and have not been recovered.

The Scrufari Construction Co. began installing the windows Monday and had expected to finish by the end of next week. Now, Culp said, she did not expect the window installation to be completed until mid-February.

Culp said the delay should not prevent the building from opening in September for next school year.

Benjamin T. Dugan, 23, has been charged with two counts of felony criminal possession of stolen property, and a criminal trespass count, Freeman said.

Dugan's case is being handled in Niagara Falls Drug Court because he told City Court officials he has a drug problem that prompted him to commit the thefts, the detective said.

Freeman said Dugan was first arrested on Dec. 4 by Cheektowaga police when the empty spools that held the copper wire were found in the back of his truck with the name of Niagara Street School stenciled on them.

He said Dugan initially was let go, so he could work with Niagara Falls police because he told Cheektowaga officers he obtained the spools from another person. He promised to help detectives locate the perpetrator.

Culp said Dugan's full colors became apparent on Dec. 21.

"He got so greedy he came back [to the construction site], sat on the stoop and started stripping more copper wire," Culp said. "He loaded it along with some tools [he stole from another contractor, Ferguson Electric] into his truck. A neighbor saw him, took down his license plate number and reported it to police.

"The police went to his house and found his truck parked in the driveway. It was so loaded down with wire and tools that they couldn't tow it away. We ended up recovering about half the wire and the tools from the second theft."

Despite the recovery of wire, Culp said total loss still came to more than $30,000 from the items, which Dugan apparently sold to junk dealers in Erie County.

Officials said the theft won't cost the school district anything because contractors like Scrufari and Ferguson are insured.


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