Michigan man charged with stealing copper wire, drug trafficking

At least two other suspects also in custody
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

A high-speed chase that ended in a vehicle rollover Jan. 4 led to an investigation into an Upper Michigan man who has now been charged with stealing and scrapping copper wire and trafficking in methamphetamine and other drugs.

Bond was set at $100,000 cash for Benjamin D.J. Zirbel, 35, of Crystal Falls, Michigan, during a Jan. 17 appearance in Oconto County Circuit Court after he was charged in three separate criminal complaints alleging 15 felonies, two misdemeanors and a handful of traffic offenses.

The charges include felony bail jumping, because a bench warrant had been issued for Zirbel’s arrest after he failed to appear for an Aug. 17 court appearance on charges of possession of THC (second or subsequent offense) and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

It was that warrant that led Oconto Falls Police Chief Brad Olsen to attempt a traffic stop when he saw Zirbel in the city Jan. 4. According to one of the criminal complaints, Zirbel refused to stop and led Olsen on a four-mile chase at speeds up to 90 mph down County Road I, four times crossing the center line and forcing other vehicles to swerve in an attempt to end the chase.

Olsen eventually attempted bumping Zirbel’s pickup truck with his squad car to cause a spinout that resulted in the rollover on U.S. 141 south of County Road I, the complaint said. Zirbel was treated at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay for minor injuries before being taken to the Oconto County Jail.

Meanwhile, investigators retrieved 20.08 grams of methamphetamine, 15.79 grams of THC gummies and 79.49 grams of green marijuana from the truck, according to the complaint.

The truck was registered to Tammy Marie Dumas, 55, of Oconto Falls, and subsequent investigation indicated that Zirbel was allegedly trafficking in drugs with Dumas and Anthony Mork, 33, of rural Suring. A second woman is identified in the complaints but had not yet been charged as of the morning of Jan. 22.

According to a second complaint against Zirbel, Investigator Nick School of the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department received a call from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office in lower Michigan, which was investigating two thefts of copper wiring from businesses there. In addition to the drugs, authorities had recovered quantities of copper wiring from Dumas’ truck when they arrested Zirbel, the complaints said.

Michigan authorities had identified the truck from surveillance video from the businesses and cameras on the Mackinac Bridge, and they were planning to execute a search warrant of Zirbel’s residence when they heard about his arrest in Oconto County.

According to the complaint, the thefts had occurred Dec. 23 in East Bay, Michigan, and Dec. 29 in Traverse City, Michigan, and involved thousands of pounds of electrical wiring on large spools. The spools could be seen in the back of the pickup truck in the Mackinac Bridge video, which also yielded the license plate number, the complaints said.

The plastic coating had been mostly burned off the wire recovered from Zirbel and Dumas, and investigators said scrap yards will pay a higher price for copper wire without the coating.

Records from area yards indicated that Zirbel often sold them copper wire for cash at various times over the past year. In an interview at the jail Jan. 5, “Zirbel denied stealing the wire and stated it is legit and we won’t find proof that it is stolen,” the complaint said.

Zirbel told investigators he obtained the wire from Facebook Marketplace or by getting permission to remove the metal from abandoned homes and motor homes. But search warrants of his home and Dumas’ truck and home recovered bolt cutters similar to those used to break into the Michigan businesses, among other items, the complaints said.

During the Jan. 17 appearance before Oconto County Judge Jay Conley, Zirbel was charged with:

• Possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, fleeing an officer in a vehicle causing bodily harm and/or property damage, possession with intent to deliver THC, possession of THC (second or subsequent offense), possession of methamphetamine, felony bail jumping, misdemeanor counts of resisting or obstructing an officer and possession of drug paraphernalia, and four forfeiture offenses of reckless driving, in connection with the Jan. 4 high-speed chase and arrest.

• Receiving stolen property, possession of burglarious tools and felony bail jumping, in connection with the Michigan investigation.

• Manufacturing with intent to deliver methamphetamine, manufacturing with intent to deliver THC, felony bail jumping, maintaining a drug trafficking place, possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and possession with intent to deliver THC, in connection with incidents dating back to Aug. 1 and through early January.

In two separate complaints, Dumas is charged with receiving stolen property, manufacturing with intent to deliver methamphetamine, manufacturing with intent to deliver THC, felony bail jumping, maintaining a drug trafficking place, possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and possession with intent to deliver THC.

During her initial court appearance, Conley set a $4,000 cash bond and adjourned her initial appearance until Feb. 15.

Mork is charged with manufacturing with intent to deliver methamphetamine, manufacturing with intent to deliver THC and maintaining a drug trafficking place. Conley set his bond at $10,000 cash and also adjourned his initial appearance until Feb. 15.

Zirbel’s next court appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 15 before Judge Michael Judge.

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com