Man says he stole heavy-duty batteries from Tennessee cell phone towers to fuel his drug habit

Around the South

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A 39-year-old man is behind bars and police say he is now a suspect in as many as 50 cell phone tower burglaries across Middle Tennessee.

According to area investigators, Gary Gene Butler Jr. broke into cell phone tower sites across the area and then stole expensive, heavy-duty batteries, designed to keep the towers powered up in times of electrical failures.

Portland Police Detective Miranda Vaughan started working the case when a cell phone tower near the police department was burglarized.

“It’s very odd for someone to be able to gain access into that secure site,” Vaughn said.

According to Vaughan, Butler worked in the cell tower industry around 2019. She said that gave him know how and access to the secure facilities.

Vaughan said she recently spoke to Butler, now sitting in the Rutherford County Jail. Butler was reportedly stopped in Kentucky where he was arrested on the outstanding criminal warrants out of Rutherford County for theft.

“When I interviewed him, he said he was supporting his drug habit,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan said the suspect has confessed to the crimes. In Portland’s case, it was eight batteries stolen from that cell tower site.

Vaughan said each battery weighs over 100 pounds and can cost hundreds of dollars.

“Based on his statement, he would take them to the recycling center and he would get twenty cents per pound for those batteries. So, he was getting a couple hundred dollars per pop for those batteries,” said Vaughan.

Vaughan said the eight batteries stolen in Portland are valued at over $3,000.

Vaughan said once Butler’s name was developed, she was able to go to the Portland recycling center and pull video of the batteries being sold and match them to the driver’s license of Gary Gene Butler Jr.

Tennessee requires people making transactions like this to supply photo identification.

Vaughan said she immediately shared her burglary information with other police agencies around the state. She said it didn’t take long for many detectives working similar cases from all over the area to get back to her.

Brentwood detectives quickly developed Butler as a suspect in their cell tower battery burglary when LPR technology captured a truck near one of the theft sites.

The picture not only snapped the license plate, but the back of the truck loaded with expensive cell phone tower batteries.

The truck was soon traced to Butler.

Det. Vaughan said Butler was contrite in jail, owning up to his thefts.

“Yeah he is ready to turn his life around and kick his drug habit,” Vaughan said.

So far, Butler is charged with two counts of theft over $1,000 just in Portland. Vaughan said it’s probable as more agencies compare notes, there will be many more counts to come.

Detectives in Brentwood said they plan to present this case to the grand jury.

Sister station WKRN asked if federal agencies might be involved, including the FCC. One detective said there was talk of bringing federal prosecution, but since it is not believed that Butler was breaking into the cell phone tower sites for any purpose other than theft of the batteries to sell, only state charges are being considered at this time.

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