Two Twin Cities men posed as employees and burglarized a central Minnesota communications tower in pursuit of valuable copper wiring, according to charges.

Charged with burglary, possessing burglary tools and illicit drug possession in Morrison County District Court were Gabriel D. Smith, 40, of Dellwood, and Travis M. Zaiser, 43, of Richfield in connection with them targeting a tower outside of Little Falls.

Both men were arrested and have since posted bond and are both due in court on Tuesday. Court records do not list defense counsel for either man.

The tower's owner, Little Falls-based Fallsnet, issued a statement on social media that last week's break-in was the company's third in the past year.

"The suspects caused significant damage, cutting through the south fence and damaging waveguides and cables, totaling over $10,000 in damages," the statement continued.

A check of court records through all of 2023 and this year showed no other charges filed stemming from the other two break-ins noted by Fallsnet.

The theft of copper has proven to be a nettlesome problem around the state, particularly in St. Paul, where thieves have broken air-conditioning units, crippled vehicle-charging stations and dimmed thousands of street lights across the city in recent years. Such thefts cost the city $1.2 million to repair in 2023.

As the state Legislature wound down its session in recent days, it passed a bill that requires anyone selling copper to first be issued a state license. The legislation awaits the signature of Gov. Tim Walz, who has pushed lawmakers to act.

According to the charges in Morrison County:

A monitor of a motion-activated camera detected two people using a pry bar while trying in vain to break into the building attached to the tower. The two went ahead and cut copper wire and tubing from the back of the building.

Deputies arrived, saw fencing on the perimeter had been cut and arrested Smith and Zaiser. At first, they claimed to be employees with authority to be on the property, but "when actual employees arrived, they confirmed Zaiser and Smith had no permission to be on the property," the charges read.

A law enforcement search of the SUV they drove to the tower turned up burglary tools, a maul hammer, a flashlight and suspected methamphetamine. A trailer attached to the SUV held a bandsaw that deputies suspect was used to cut the fencing and free the copper.

Also inside the SUV were AT&T stickers, with one of them attached to a hard hat. A homemade AT&T sticker was affixed to the trailer.

"It was apparent that the suspects had preplanned the burglary and had taken steps to portray themselves as legitimate company employees," the charges continued.

Star Tribune staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this story.