Two charged with stealing copper from former school
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 19,2013
BENNINGTON — Two men have been arraigned for burglary after police said they took copper pipes from a 100-year-old former school building on Main Street, causing an estimated $75,000 in damage.
Gregory A. Croff, 31, of Bennington, was arraigned Wednesday and Tracy E. Eastman, 40, of Bennington, was arraigned Thursday. Both men pleaded innocent in Bennington criminal court to a single felony count of burglary and Eastman was released without bail.
Croff, however, was ordered held without bail until a hearing May 24 to determine whether he will have a chance to be released pending the resolution of the charges.
In an affidavit, Officer James Gulley of the Bennington Police Department said police were notified on April 3 that copper and brass had been taken from the former Mount Anthony Union Middle School.
Gulley said he and Officer John Behan, also of the Bennington Police Department, looked around the school and found evidence which Gulley said indicated that whoever had been removing copper pipes had been doing so for months.
According to Gulley, a request was put out to the whole police department for assistance in the case and with the help of Detective Peter Urbanowicz, a written statement from a man who said he knew Eastman and Croff had been involved in taking metal from the buildingwas obtained. The man told police he had been invited to become involved but declined.
Gulley said he met with Croff on Tuesday after notifying Croff’s probation officer about the investigation. Croff agreed to speak with police and told Gulley that he knew Eastman, with whom he lived between October and December, was taking metal from the building.
Croff told police that Allen Button, 43, was also involved. While Button has not yet been arraigned, the lawyer representing Eastman on Thursday said he believed the case would have to be reassigned because of the potential for charges to be brought against Button.
Button has several pending charges for petty larceny, possession of stolen property and false pretenses. As of Thursday afternoon, there was an active warrant for Button’s arrest.
Gulley said Eastman was taken into custody Wednesday morning.
According to the affidavit, Eastman admitted to breaking into the building on an ongoing basis beginning in the fall and continuing through this month. He also said Croff and Button had been involved.
“Eastman also told me that some nights he would work by himself, stripping the precious metals from their fixed positions, chopping them down to appropriate transporting size, then transporting the precious metal to the scrap yard for payment,” Gulley said.
Both Croff and Eastman were described as having “extensive” criminal records in Vermont.
During Eastman’s arraignment, Robert Plunkett, a deputy state’s attorney for Bennington County, said he was not concerned that Eastman was likely to flee because he was “fairly well-known” in the area.
“This particular burglary was right next to his house where it was essentially very convenient for Mr. Eastman to do this. Unfortunately, he was not watched over that period of time. Now he is so in terms of public safety, I’m confident that these conditions alone, along with the continued police investigation will be sufficient,” he said.
Eastman is required to check in with the police once a day and is not allowed to have contact with Croff and Button.
The building was opened as the Bennington High School in 1913 and became the middle school about 50 years later until a new high school was opened in Bennington in 2004. It’s now owned by a Canadian businessman who bought the building at an auction.