Streetlight copper stolen, sold by organized group: Charges

An organized group was behind dozens of streetlights having copper wire stolen from them throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul in a scheme designed to sell it for profit, according to charges.

Kyaw Klay, 40, of St. Paul, is charged with theft, damage to property, and being in possession of burglary tools after police say he organized a group to remove the wire from streetlights, resulting in $12,169 from 31 transactions. Other members of the group allegedly include Aye Mae, Eh Blay, Paw La and Nay Thar.

According to charges, a confidential informant told authorities that Klay and others damaged the streetlights in order to remove wire from them, which was then sold to recycling facilities such Dem-Con Metal Recycling in Blaine – netting around $3 per pound for copper wiring removed from its insulation, and $2 per pound for wiring that had "City of St. Paul Public Works" stamped on it. 

Klay and others would most often take the wiring from the streetlights during the nighttime over weekends. Charges state that Klay was so familiar to employees at Dem-Con that they no longer asked him for his ID when he brought copper in to sell to them.

Authorities began surveillance on Klay's vehicle, and an undercover agent arranged a sale during which the proceeds of stolen wire would be split.

On Feb. 23, 2024, police pulled over Klay’s Toyota Camry, after they believed he and an accomplice, Eh Blay, had been out gathering more wire to sell. When pulled over by police, Blay had cut copper wire at his feet, charges state.

In April, Blay pleaded guilty to possession of burglary tools in Ramsey County District Court.

Meanwhile, Paw La is charged with criminal damage to property, possession of burglary tools and theft.

Nay Thar is charged with damage to property and possession of burglary tools.

In recent years, the Twin Cities have experienced significant damage and cost increases due to streetlights being stripped of copper wiring.

In Minneapolis, officials say they spent $250,000 in 2023 to replace copper wires stolen from light posts.

The city has since considered replacing copper with aluminum, which carries less resell value.