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The copper was separated from the plastic coating and insultation to sell as scrap metal. ((CBC))

A man from Dingwells Mills, P.E.I., has been sentenced to two years in prison for stealing copper wire.

Ronald Laybolt, 27, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of break and enter, and theft.

Laybolt was charged with stealing copper wire from Chapman Brothers Construction Ltd. and Atlantic Enterprise Ltd., both in Charlottetown.

Laybolt admitted to breaking into the building in July and using large bolt cutters to cut the copper cable at the plant. Much of the cable was then stripped — separated from the plastic coating and insulation — to sell as scrap metal.

The Crown attorney said the case is considered one of the biggest copper thefts in the province.

"In terms of supplies and labour to replace the copper wire in the plant, it's estimated at $150,000," said Cheryl Schurman.

"The Chapman Brothers company … couldn't bid on several contracts or couldn't complete several contracts, so their losses in that regard were in the millions."

The owner of Chapman Brothers told the court that the company was insured but not enough to cover all its losses.

Four others have been charged in connection with the theft, but are still to be tried.

Earlier on Tuesday, Laybolt pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him and his trial began in Charlottetown provincial court. After hearing half a dozen witnesses testify against him, he changed his plea to guilty.

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Copper wire was stolen from Chapman Brothers Construction and Atlantic Enterprise in Charlottetown. ((CBC))

Justice Nancy Orr sentenced Laybolt to two years plus one day in a federal prison.

"If you think this is an easy way to make money, give your heads a shake," Orr said in court. "Someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed stealing copper wire."

The theft of copper wire is a problem across the province that is costly and potentially deadly, due to thieves pulling wire from high-voltage areas.

Charlottetown's police department has approached the provincial Justice Department about legislation that would force buyers to keep records of sellers.

That would allow police to look at the books of recyclers and scrap metal dealers to find out if they are buying copper from a legitimate source.