36172925_sUSA: A serial air conditioning thief faces up to 15 years in prison after being charged with releasing refrigerant to atmosphere.

According to local TV station KSN News, Wichita police have charged 43-year-old Byron Stuckey with three counts of venting a class ll substance. A conviction carries a potential 15 years federal prison term and a fine up to $750,000.

Police say he is suspected of stealing air conditioning units dating back to 2008. He was arrested by police in 2012.

Stuckey pleaded guilty to stealing copper from dozens of air conditioning units in 2012 but the judge suspended the sentence to 12 months of probation. Police alleged that he was responsible for 68 air conditioning thefts in the area and was believed to have stolen ac units from homes as well as eight local churches.

He is not the first air conditioning thief to be prosecuted in the USA for wantonly releasing refrigerant to atmosphere. Last year, in Ohio, 35-year-old Martin C Eldridge III was sentenced to 21 months and 20 days in prison and an additional 200 hours community service for violating the US Clean Air Act by cutting air conditioning pipes during the act of stealing air conditioning units for their scrap copper.

In this latest case, Wichita authorities are now seeking further charges in an effort to dissuade repeat offenders.

Explaining this latest course of action, Capt Jose Salcido of Wichita Police Department told KSN News: “We do follow the traditional model sometimes and arrest them for that, but when we have a serial offender, we try to think of novel ways, so I was sitting in bed at 3 o’clock in the morning, woke up, and I had me an epiphany, and I was like, could this be an environmental crime?”

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