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Police: Mother, children tied to theft ring

NORCROSS -- Police have arrested a Norcross mother and two of her children in connection with a theft ring that preyed on foreclosed homes in metro Atlanta, officials said.

The trio lifted entire air conditioners from properties, including at least four in Gwinnett, and cashed in the valuable metals at an area recycling business, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

The suspects are identified as Joyce Leach, 48, her son, Dennis Leach, 29, and daughter, Stephanie Leach, 20, all of Norcross.

"Apparently, they have been targeting houses in foreclosure, or otherwise empty residential locations," Kelly said. "They've been recycling either the whole unit or its components in some manner."

The suspects have thus far been charged with stealing from a Norcross home in the 5800 block of Pro Drive, near Peachtree Corners Circle. They face counts of theft by taking and possessing tools for the commission of a crime. More charges are expected.

Gwinnett police launched an investigation into the string of thefts after receiving information from a Crime Stoppers tipster last month. Detectives conducted surveillance and gathered sufficient evidence to arrest the Leaches on Monday, Kelly said.

The thefts involved several other jurisdictions in the Atlanta area, he said. Police did not provided an estimate number of victimized properties.

All three suspects are unemployed, jail records show.

Thieves are known to covet the copper tubing in air conditioning units which can turn quick profits at recycling centers.

Police throughout Georgia have dealt with a scourge of copper theft in recent years as payouts at scrap metal yards spiked as much as 300 percent.

Georgia legislators enacted a law in 2007 which makes stealing and hawking anything from beer kegs to copper tubing a felony if the metal is worth more than $500.

A Gwinnett police special unit meant to thwart copper theft was disbanded in 2006 after several key arrests were made.