Drag marks betray accused metal thief

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

PASADENA, Texas - Literally following a suspected thief's trail helped Houston police arrest a man and charge him with stealing a pair of a gas pipeline valves from a CenterPoint Energy facility.

Police said the valves, stolen from CenterPoint's facility on Lawndale near Goodyear, weighed about 800 pounds each and have a combined cost of $18,000.

"This appeared to be a crime of opportunity instead of somebody seeking out pipeline equipment," said Audie Cohn, an investigators with HPD's Metal Theft Unit.

Police said the two valves had been removed while CenterPoint crews were performing a pipeline integrity test. Workers noticed the valves were missing when they returned to the worksite the following morning.

However, cracking the cases did not require a master sleuth. Police said CenterPoint workers noticed drag marks leading from the worksite, down Lawndale and continuing a quarter of a mile to the driveway of a scrap metal yard.

Cohn said since the city of Houston requires anyone selling scrap metal to present a photo ID to yard owners, figuring out who sold the pair of valves was not difficult. Police said the owner of the business identified Roberto Gonzales, 51, as the man seen dragging the valves behind his compact car and selling the equipment.

"He's not very bright," said Cohn, who arrested Gonzales on Tuesday morning.

"Where did you arrest him?" asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

"At a scrap yard in Pasadena, trying to sell more scrap metal" said Cohn. "I asked him does he work for a living and he said, 'No, this is what I do for a living. I look for scrap metal.'"

Cohn said Gonzales told the owner of the scrap yard that someone had given him the valves, but later told him that he a found the equipment on the side of the road. Cohn said since steel is selling for about $.09 a pound, Gonzales only made about $144 from the sale of the valves.

Cohn said at the time Gonzales was arrested he was already on probation for a prior metal theft charge out of Pasadena.

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