According to Sheriff Gary Sexton, for nearly a week investigators have been working on more than 200 collective cases of theft of copper oil and gas equipment from gas well locations throughout Webster and Bienville parishes.
"Last Wednesday, investigators brought in their first suspect, Shane Christopher Nipper, after he and a female passenger in his vehicle were allegedly stopped and arrested by Bossier City Police when they responded to the two fighting on I-20," Sexton said. "Knowing that we had recently reported several copper theft cases, Bossier City Police contacted our investigators to inform us when they found the Webster Parish pair had cut copper wire in the trunk of the car."
Although Nipper reportedly told authorities the copper belonged to a friend and electrician, suspicions were raised and the information was passed to Webster investigators.
"It's great that a neighboring agency was intuitive enough to send us the information they had about the copper found in Nipper's car," said Sheriff's investigator Capt. Dustin Reynolds. "It was a huge break in these cases, as it turned out."
Following interviews with Nipper, 29, by Reynolds and Lt. Barry James, they determined his involvement in the theft of the equipment.
According to Reynolds, Nipper, who is from Doyline, admitted he stole copper wire, estimated to be worth $1500 per location, from at least 29 sites in the Dubberly and Cotton Valley areas of Webster Parish and many more in Bienville Parish.
During the next several days, Reynolds and James had Nipper – who worked for the company that was contracted to originally install all of the equipment – continue to identify locations from which he took the copper wire.
During that time, Bienville Parish Sheriff's authorities also joined in the investigation.
"While we all worked to piece together the locations that were robbed of copper in both parishes, we learned additional information," James said. "Nipper indicated that he was accompanied during some of the thefts by others."
Robert Wayne Lewis and Donna Marie Fultz, both of Plain Dealing, were brought in for questioning and both admitted to their involvement in the crimes.
"Sometimes Nipper had them with him," James said. "Other times he was alone; but they (Lewis and Fultz) had knowledge of his acts. They both assisted at some point by stealing and selling the stolen metal."
According to Reynolds, Nipper used several "sly tactics" to avoid being caught.
"He wore different sized boots to throw off consistency of his tracks," Reynolds said. "And he would have other people sell the wire for him at numerous locations throughout the Ark-La-Tex. He even used different vehicles – some borrowed, and some rented."
Ultimately, detectives identified 44 locations in Webster Parish and 166 in Bienville Parish that were hit by Nipper and his crew.
Webster investigators concluded this part of their investigation by adding several more charges to Nipper's original 15, leaving the estimated damages to the gas well owners at more than $315,000.
Nipper was arrested on 44 total felony charges of theft of oil and gas equipment.
Lewis, 41, was arrested on 15 felony counts of theft of oil and gas equipment and eight felony counts of criminal conspiracy to commit theft of oil and gas equipment.
Fultz, 28, was arrested on four felony counts of criminal conspiracy to commit theft of oil and gas equipment.
"Nipper can be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years on each count," Reynolds said. "And he said he made between $30,000 and $40,000 on selling the copper for scrap. There's no good return on investment in stealing copper in Webster Parish."
According to Reynolds, Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office is expected to make their own arrests in this case, as well.