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Copper stolen from Wainaku Executive Center

August 18, 2014 - 7:51am

Copper thieves struck the Wainaku Executive Center, according to the Hilo building’s owner.

Ed Olson said Friday copper drainpipes were taken from the sides of the former C. Brewer &Co. headquarters turned upscale event venue, probably either late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

“We discovered it this morning,” said Olson, president of the Edmund C. Olson Trust II, sole principal of Wainaku Ventures LLC, which owns the property. “Everything from about the 20-foot elevation down, they took all the copper pipes, probably 150 lineal feet of 4-inch copper pipe.

“This is a very fancy building, so all of the drainage situation was copper, which is incredibly expensive.”

Olson estimated the value of the stolen copper at “several thousand dollars.”

Police opened a copper theft investigation for the incident at the center, once part of the former Wainaku Sugar Mill, which is in a secluded coastal area about a half-mile north of Hilo’s “Singing Bridge.”

“There has not been any arrest made,” Sgt. Paul Kim of Hilo Patrol Division said Sunday. Asked if the copper piping resurfaced at any of the island’s metal recyclers, Kim replied, “No. Not to our knowledge.”

Copper theft is a huge problem in Hawaii. On Oahu, thieves pilfered wiring from street lights on thoroughfares including the H-1, H-2 and H-3 freeways, resulting in those busy highways being plunged into darkness during nighttime hours.

In August 2009, James B. “Freeway Jimmy” Taylor, leader of an organized theft ring that stripped more than a half-million dollars worth of copper wiring from freeway lighting systems, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criminal conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.

Taylor’s wife, Regina Foster, who handled finances for the gang, also was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.

Theft of more than a pound of copper is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

Olson said there is a problem with the center’s security gate, “so it was just bound together with cord.”

“I can’t believe there wasn’t a chain lock put on it,” he said. A chain lock was in place Sunday afternoon.

Olson said there was probably more than one individual involved and a long ladder and truck were probably needed for the copper heist.

“What they did is to go up about 20 feet. There was a joint there and they disconnected it and got all of the pipe below … on all four sides of the building,” he said.

Olson put the 12-acre property, which boasts 3,000 feet of shoreline with a black sand beach, up for sale in July. The asking price is $8.25 million. That’s $550,000 more than what he purchased it for two years ago.

The 11,800-square-foot building was built in 1924, and was remodeled by C. Brewer’s late CEO J.W.A. “Doc”Buyers, with koa wood interiors. After Brewer dissolved in 2001, Buyers bought the property for $3.5 million with the intention of converting it into an upscale resort.

Olson said when he bought the property, which has a panoramic view of Hilo Bay, he wanted to turn it into a boutique resort. The property is zoned industrial and would have to be rezoned for an owner to operate a hotel there.

While a hotel hasn’t happened there, numerous events have. It’s become the home of the annual Hilo Brewfest, weddings and other gatherings. A concert promoter has plans for a show there Sept. 19 with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell.

When Olson listed the center for sale, Margaret Stanley, the property’s director, said he did so to focus on the Hilo Naniloa Hotel, of which he has a 50 percent interest.

Olson said the copper drainpipes are original fixtures and he plans to replace them.

“The building is for sale, of course, so I can’t show it until we replace the pipe,” he said. “All of the drain piping is copper and it adds a nice nature to the building. It’s really part of the building.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.