ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Police arrested 21-year-old busboy Michael Martinez during his shift at Vernon's Steakhouse Tuesday.
He's facing felony larceny charges for a less than $200 pay-out.
Martinez is accused of stealing some expensive metal artwork the night before and quickly turning the elaborate sculptures, which doubled as light fixtures, into a pile of trash.
The metal light fixtures help light up the shopping center at night and were hand crafted by a local artist.
Twenty-two bronze and copper light fixtures that were a staple of the village shops of Los Ranchos were ripped out of the walls and stolen in the dark of night.
"They've been talked about a lot…people like those sconces," the shopping center owner, Michael Baird, said. "Now I think I need to take the rest of them off."
Michael Baird owns the strip mall and has heard the many stories of copper thefts around town, but thought that trend had died off.
"Nothing ever happened so I thought we were safe," Baird said.
Now his metal sculptures are gone.
Baird bought them in 2006 for about $400 each. He contracted well-known local artist Greg Gowen, whose contemporary style caught his eye.
"They all start with sheets of raw material," Gowen said. "Everything is hand built then etched in bronze and then we flame color it, that's a special technique we use to get the color into it."
Baird says the sculptures are unique.
"They are very distinctive looking…so being able to track them through the copper recyclers should be pretty easy," Baird said.
Baird self investigated and discovered that the thieves destroyed his fixtures then took the copper to Acme Iron and Metal about a mile away and sold them for $178.
They were worth a total of $9,000.
"It's sad," Gowen said. "It's sad to see that people will destroy others hard work for a couple bucks."
Employees at Acme would not say if they thought it was stolen or not when they bought the artwork. They told the owner that it was one man who came in to sell it.
The owner of the shopping center will replace the light fixtures but not until he installs security cameras
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