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PANAMA CITY (CBSMiami/AP) — A Panama City man is accused of stealing gold bars from his neighbors ahead of Hurricane Irma.

When Irma was approaching Florida last September, Cynthia Copley, 70, and her 69-year-husband frantically made plans to evacuate.

But they needed help moving $26,000 in gold bars they’d bought for their retirement. They asked their neighbor, Corey Lofton, to help them move the bars, which were hidden in a cat litter box, to a boat on their property for safekeeping.

The storm didn’t hit Panama City and the Copleys they thought everything was fine until they discovered their gold was missing about a week later. They called Lofton but he told them he had moved to Jacksonville.

They then contacted the sheriff’s office. Three months later, Lofton is back in Bay County to face grand theft charges. He was arrested this week in Jacksonville on DUI and violation of probation charges and was returned to Bay County.

Why did the Copleys stash between 15 and 20 gold bars in a cat litter box?

“We were frantic,” said Cynthia Copley. “We were so worried about the storm. Unfortunately, we didn’t think about anyone taking advantage of us.”

She said they put the litter box on their boat and moved it to an inland property to weather the storm.

In an incident report filed in September, the sheriff’s deputy wrote that he contacted Lofton’s mother who lives next door to the Copleys. She told investigators she didn’t know where her son was, but that “he had spontaneously left town over the weekend to work in Jacksonville.”

Lofton had been arrested on a drug charge in May and violated his probation by moving to Jacksonville.

The Copleys invested in gold to help prepare for retirement. She said the sheriff’s investigators haven’t told her whether they recovered any of the gold.

“We kind of figured it was long gone. We were hopeful, but since that happened in September, it’s pretty much a lost cause,” she said. “I just want to see him in jail.”

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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