Ruskin man accused of stealing batteries from cell phone towers, disrupting signals

By Laurie Davison, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017, 10:45 AM EST

A Ruskin man is accused of stealing batteries that powered cellular signals, which allegedly interrupted 911 systems.

  • 40-year-old William Jay Bingham faces several charges
  • Accused of entering cell phone tower areas, stealing batteries
  • Detectives say he admitted to several similar thefts

William Jay Bingham, 40, was charged with eight counts of grand theft, seven counts of dealing in stolen property and four counts of burglary of a structure, among other charges.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said the incidents occurred in late November and early December.

Deputies said Bingham on Nov. 27 entered a secured cell phone tower area on Lula Street in Gibsonton by using a code for the locked perimeter fence. Once inside, he used another code to enter a building and removed 30 batteries. That caused a brief interruption to the cellular network and 911 system in the area.

Those batteries were valued at approximately $12,000. 

A similar incident occurred Dec. 8 at a cell phone tower on 21st Avenue SE in Ruskin. Again, 30 batteries were taken--valued at approximately $12,000--and again the cellular signal and 911 system was briefly interrupted. 

"Certainly, although it was a property crime, it certainly could have turned into something very tragic had somebody tried to call 911 and they're not able to get through, because somebody has effectively shut down the cell towers over the theft," said Larry McKinnon, Hillsborough County Sheriff's PIO.

The suspect entered a second cell phone tower outbuilding on Dec. 8, stealing 8 backup batteries, valued at approximately $2,000. 

The Sheriff's Office said Bingham admitted to stealing the batteries and selling them at local metal recycling companies.

"These batteries are very big, they've very expensive. They stole the copper wiring that's attached to them so that fetches a good penny," said McKinnon.

He also admitted to stealing batteries at cell tower sites in the City of Tampa, Polk County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County, Manatee County and Sarasota County.

Residents who live in the neighborhoods around the cell towers said they use their phones all the time.

"I rely on it to see what my children are doing at school a lot of times and just imagine not being able to make a phone call, that's kind of scary," said Elisa Arnold. "That's crazy. People need their cell phones so for someone to mess with that, that's crazy."

The Sheriff's Office said its looking into other cell phone tower thefts including sites in Tampa, Polk County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County, Manatee County and Sarasota County.

Additional charges are pending and other suspects may be involved. Detectives are still investigating and said more arrests are possible.