Friday April 19, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Police charged a second man with the theft of half a ton of copper from the former Mount Anthony Middle School.

Tracy E. Eastman, 40, of Pleasant Street, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a felony count of burglary and was released on conditions.

According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Officer James A. Gulley, on Wednesday he arrested Eastman after an investigation into the thefts implicated him. Police said Eastman broke into the school a number of times between autumn 2012 and mid-April 2013. According to police Eastman sold the stolen material to area scrapyards for a total of approximately $9,000. Eastman worked alone at times but had help from others, said police.

Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett said at the arraignment hearing that he does not feel Eastman poses a risk of failing to appear at future court hearings.

On Wednesday, Gregory A. Croff, 31, of Silver Street, was charged with burglary and held because he was on furlough by the Department of Corrections. According to another affidavit by Gulley, on April 3 he spoke to the former school’s caretaker who said he discovered an estimated $75,000 in damage had been done to the building through the removal of copper and brass. The caretaker told police he routinely checks the outside of the building but goes inside less often and had seen nothing from the outside lately to indicate a break-in had occurred.

An email was sent out to all Bennington police officers asking if they had any information on the matter. Daniel Torres, 26, told police he had been approached by Susan Hall about a chance to make money by helping Eastman remove copper from the former school. Torres said he declined the offer but had been told by Croff that Croff had made $150 helping Eastman.

Croff denied being involved in the thefts and said while he was living with Eastman between October and December he knew Eastman had taken copper from the school and had been helped to transport it by Allen D. Button, 43, and Tara Campbell.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr