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Morgan officials have suspect in church AC thefts in custody

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

COTACO — Deacon Jim Maze said Gum Springs Baptist Church's new air conditioner will be installed just in time to keep revival-goers cool Sunday.

The man accused of stealing the central air conditioning unit and making Wednesday prayer meeting a muggy affair is now behind bars.

Morgan County Sheriff's investigators arrested Brent David Leeth, 29, and searched Leeth's vehicle and his residence at 266 James Frazier Road on Friday.

Chief Deputy Mike Corley said that, by the end of the day, investigators had gathered enough evidence to charge Leeth with first-degree theft in three separate cases of air conditioners stolen from churches in east-central Morgan County.

Two air conditioners were discovered stolen from Curry Chapel C.M.E. Church on Sunday and another was stolen from Mount Mariah United Methodist Church on Tuesday. Both churches are in the Valhermoso Springs area.

Maze said Gum Springs members didn't notice their air conditioner stolen until the sanctuary failed to cool.

"It was there Sunday night when we left the church, and when we came in there Wednesday night, we turned the air conditioner on for the services. It wasn't getting any cooler, so I walked out there to see what was wrong, and the whole thing was gone," Maze said.

"It's bad enough to steal from me, but when you start stealing from the church, you're walking on some dangerous ground," he said. "I wouldn't want to have to answer for that."

Maze said the thief apparently backed a vehicle over some newly planted trees behind the church in order to haul the air conditioner out.

Corley said Leeth's past behavior made him a suspect early in the investigation. Leeth was out of jail on bond after being charged in June with stealing an air conditioner from a residence.

"There were three other air conditioners taken around that time. We feel that he was involved, but we didn't have enough to charge him," Corley said.

Corley said investigators were unable to recover any of the stolen church air conditioners.

"We feel like he was selling them, probably as scrap or for copper. He wouldn't indicate to us what he was doing with them," Corley said.

Corley said it remained unknown whether Leeth stole the heavy units with help from accomplices or did it by himself.

"It is possible for an individual to drop a tailgate on a truck and get an air conditioner started up on there and shove it in by himself," he said.

Maze said the church's insurance company is replacing the air conditioner in the nick of time.

"ALFA got right on the ball," he said. "We're supposed to have a new one by sometime (Saturday). Our revival starts Sunday morning."

Leeth remained in Morgan County Jail late Friday in lieu of $78,000 bond.

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