Illegal power grabs: Costly, deadly : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Illegal power grabs: Costly, deadly October 27, 2000 Web posted at: 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Wayne Wohler combs the streets of Los Angeles looking for criminals who play with fire, risking their lives to siphon electricity while forcing law-abiding consumers to foot the bill.

Wohler leads a group of power police -- investigators for the Revenue Security Unit of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Their mission: find the power thieves who cost the local utility as much as $54 million annually.

On a national level, the FBI puts the loss for a single year at $4 billion.

While the consumer ultimately pays in higher electric rates, the cost to the criminal can be much higher.

In one case cited by Wohler, a professional electrician was electrocuted trying to steal power. "One millionth of an amp, which is less than a small 25-watt light bulb, is potentially enough ... to cause your heart to go into defibrillation," he told CNN.

Another would-be power grabber was clearly amateurish. "Somebody illegally tried to restore their services after nonpayment by stringing pieces of metal coat hangers together and running them from the pole to their service," Wohler said.

In a less dangerous scheme used by other customers, large magnets were placed in front of electric meters, trying to make the meters stop. Although it worked for a while, the thieves eventually were caught.

"It's just like somebody who robs a bank," says Wohler. "You might get lucky, rob it once, rob it twice, get away with it. (But if) you continue to do it, you will be caught."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 27, 2000

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