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Man held in $60K Westchester road sign battery thefts

Westchester County public safety officials arrested a man accused of stealing about 300 deep-cycle batteries from roadside signs that provide information and safety warnings to motorists.

Angel G. Velez, 26, of Baychester Avenue in the Bronx, was charged with multiple felony counts of third-degree grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and second-degree criminal mischief in the thefts of about $60,000 worth of batteries, according to a news release from Westchester County police Wednesday.

The batteries were stolen from the portable message signs owned by Westchester County, New York State and several private companies that do road construction projects in the county, the release said.

"Variable message signs are placed along roadways to warn truckers about low bridges and warn motorists about traffic delays or safety hazards that they will encounter along their route," Public Safety Commissioner George N. Longworth said in the release. "These battery thefts knocked many variable message signs out of service, preventing messages from being displayed and posing a threat to the safety of the motoring public."

Velez is believed to have received more than $20,000 by selling stolen batteries for their lead content to recycling centers in the area, the release said. The batteries, which weigh 55-96 pounds, cost about $200 each when newly purchased.

The investigation was conducted by Det. Dan Carfi of the county police General Investigations Unit after the county Public Works and Transportation Department and a private contractor reported battery thefts several months ago, the release said.

The thefts occurred along the Hutchinson River Parkway, Bronx River Parkway, Saw Mill River Parkway, Cross County Parkway, Thruway and local roads as well as from a state Department of Transportation maintenance yard, the release said.

As a result of Carfi's investigation, State Police and the New York City Police Department are investigating whether Velez is responsible for similar thefts that have occurred in Rockland, Orange and Bronx counties.

Velez was booked at county police headquarters Tuesday night and was held pending arraignment Wednesday in multiple courts in Westchester, including Yonkers, New Rochelle, Greenburgh and Mount Vernon.

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