Did copper wire theft threaten national security?

Metal taken from Air Force communications tower

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - West of Fort Pierce sits a tower that looks like many others that dot the landscape. But it isn't owned by the state or any local or county government. It's the property of the United States Air Force.  

It is a microwave repeater tower, and detectives say its copper wire has been the target of 24 year-old John Bonadia.  

Four times since October, investigators believe Bonadia has climbed the barbed wire fence... then the tower, to steal 300-feet of wiring.

An arrest affidavit says the tower is vital to national security and if the tower was hit by lightning without being grounded, hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment could have been destroyed.

"These communication towers there's no telling exactly what you're getting involved in when you're taking this wire out and just what kind of impact you're having on the community once you've cut those wires and go to remove them," said St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Garry Wilson.

A metal ring wrapped around the outer tower leg helped keep the wire in place. Upon closer inspection you can see where the copper wire was cut as it sticks out at an angle.  After the second theft last month, investigators set up a sting.

Sheriff's deputies set up cameras around the perimeter and got their suspect, not before he realized he was being watched.

There was one visible camera mounted on a pole just outside the fence. Detectives say Bonadia knocked that one down, then tossed it in the nearby L-20 canal.  But the report says a second camera took photographs linking Bonadia to the scene.

A spokesman for Patrick Air Force Base, which uses the tower, said it supports communications for the Eastern Range, which supports an average of 20 launches per year into space.  

He added the 45th Space Wing security forces continue to work closely with the sheriff's office to ensure the security of the tower.  Another arrest is expected in this case.  

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