Construction sites easy targets
By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published December 9, 2005
Travis Schintzius stood in his newly built home. It still smelled of paint and plaster. He hadn't even moved in yet, and his home had been burglarized.
The stove was gone. Ditto for the washer and dryer, the refrigerator, the air conditioner.
"I felt so violated," he recalled.
Schintzius was the victim of a booming sector of crime: construction theft.
As development saturates southeast Hillsborough County, crime comes with it. Thefts from construction sites cost builders and homeowners about $857,000 last year, the Sheriff's Office said.
In fact, this type of crime has become so common that the District 4 Sheriff's Office has dedicated a deputy exclusively to fight construction theft.
As it so happens, that deputy is Travis Schintzius.
His own experience, years ago, has left him with a loathing for this particular crime.
"It's scroungish," he said. "The bottom of the barrel. Low people do that."
Schintzius, 34, spends his days casing out construction sites from Brandon to Ruskin. He has a lot to contend with. Right now, he said, there are about 100 sites - and only one of him.
Construction theft, he said, is an "opportunistic" crime. Thieves will take anything that's not nailed down - showerheads, wooden planks, sheets of plywood, boxes of tile, large appliances, nails, Sheetrock.
By far, appliances are the most common item stolen. In fact, Schintzius is convinced that someone must be moving vast amounts of stolen appliances because so many are stolen each year.
"There's a black market somewhere out there for it," he said. "There has to be. No one has caught the big fish yet, but that's what we're searching for. I'd like to find the international warehouse that stores them. I'd like the whole shipping ring."
Stealing from construction sites is easy, Schintzius said, because men moving materials in and out of the site become invisible to the neighborhood.
"If workers are there, nothing they do is out of the ordinary to citizens walking by," he said.
Sometimes thieves will strip a completed house by night, just before the new owner moves in. Other times, Schintzius said, they'll load up a truck in broad daylight and drive away.
Many times, the thieves are construction workers. They sell the stolen materials or use them in side businesses. Sometimes the thief is just someone who doesn't realize that items left at a construction site aren't free, he said.
Once, Schintzius arrested a man who lived in a $400,000 house across from a construction site. The man was taking lumber to build a loft in his own house.
When Schintzius confronted him, "he called himself an idiot," Schintzius recalled.
Schintzius said he tries to educate people he meets at construction sites about the seriousness of the crime. Taking even a nail results in two felony charges, he said - trespassing on a posted construction site, and grand theft from a posted construction site.
But he doesn't think the trend will change. Construction theft will be with Hillsborough County until it reaches build-out, he said.
In a way, that's a good thing, because Schintzius loves his job.
Signal 14 - the cop code for "information" - is an occasional column about crime in east Hillsborough. S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or email@example.com
[Last modified December 8, 2005, 07:50:08]
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