A 42-year-old Cleveland man is facing charges after Brecksville police allegedly caught him scrapping at a former Veterans Affairs hospital for the second time.
For more than five decades, the former VA hospital complex in Brecksville provided care for soldiers returning home from war. However, since it closed in 2011 keeping illegal scrappers and trespassers out of the massive property has been a battle in itself for Brecksville police.
On Sunday, officers arrested Paul Stanbaugh — a man with prior convictions for illegal scrapping after he allegedly tried to steal thousands of dollars’ worth of insulated copper wiring.
Stanbaugh is being held on a $500,000 bond on charges of theft, breaking and entering, possession of criminal tools and trespassing.
Police arrested Stanbaugh on Sunday night after officers reported finding several coils of insulated copper wiring in his trunk, which was parked near a building on the expansive property, according to a Brecksville police report.
A patrol officer was conducting a special attention check on the property due to prior occasions in which people had been trespassing and stealing copper, the report states. When the officer pulled onto the property, he reported seeing Stanbaugh’s vehicle parked behind the tall grass, the report states.
Stanbaugh allegedly told the officer that he was bow hunting on what he believed was private property. However, the officer stated that Stanbaugh did not have any hunting equipment in his vehicle. Instead, the officer reportedly found the large coils of copper wiring, estimated to be worth thousands of dollars. The report states the responding officer also found two additional copper wire coils hidden in the tall grass.
Stanbaugh had been previously arrested and convicted of breaking and entering the complex several years ago, according to police records.
“Paul stated that he was on hard times and came back to the property to retrieve what he had previously stashed,” the report states. “Paul stated that he and his father are near poverty… He doesn’t like stealing from people. He’s was there [Sunday] just to get by.”
Sergio Digeronimo, the prosecutor for the City of Brecksville, said he could not comment on the case because it is still an active investigation. However, Digeronimo said the 103-acre former VA hospital complex has been a frequent target for copper thieves and thrill-seekers looking to explore the vacant buildings that dot the property.
“It’s been a challenge. The past several years there have been numerous attempts to bring precious metals out of the building to be scrapped, things like copper,” Digeronimo said. “Police have been very successful in the interdiction of that scrapping activity.”
Not only is the scrapping activity illegal but it is also extremely dangerous, Digeronimo said.
“There’s zero tolerance for any trespassing on the property, principally because it is simply too dangerous to be there,” Digeronimo said.
After years of negotiations, the City of Brecksville finally obtained ownership of the property earlier this year as part of a massive redevelopment effort of the entire complex. The multi-million dollar endeavor will turn the historic hospital site into a mixed-use development, featuring office, retail and restaurant space. All of the buildings on the property will be demolished over the next two years as part of the Valor Acres project.
Some demolition work is already underway, placing a greater emphasis on trying to keep people out, Digeronimo said.
“It’s very dangerous to be on those premises now that there are construction crews. The buildings are in a grave state of disrepair. They present a significant danger to anybody,” Digeronimo said. “There are hazardous materials in there that have been exposed to the elements for a period of time. Because of the scrapping activity, there are a lot of voids that would not be detectable.”
Police will continue their specialized patrols around the area while demolition and construction work continues. There is also concern that ghost hunters may try to enter the property for paranormal investigations with Halloween just around the corner. However, the zero-tolerance policy will still apply.
“It’s going to be a fantastic asset to the City of Brecksville but until then, the public is asked to enjoy the development from a distance,” Digeronimo said.