San Diego Gas & Electric Co. filed a $500,000 lawsuit against a Lakeside couple for allegedly stealing more than $40,000 worth of gas and electricity from the utility over three years.
Beth Eagleson, SDG&E;'s corporate attorney handling the civil action, said Friday that the suit against Jerry P. and Cathy A. Goulart seeks to recover punitive damages and about $42,500 worth of energy stolen from the utility.
“Based upon measurement of actual use compared to their load information, a back bill for gas and electric service was prepared,” Eagleson said. According to company spokesman Dave Smith, load information refers to the energy used by household appliances.
The law allows utilities to try to recover the cost of stolen electricity, plus treble damages. In this case, Eagleson said, that amounts to $127,789.50. In addition, she said, SDG&E; is seeking $300,000 in punitive damages.
Eagleson did not say how the Goularts’ case was discovered, but added that most cases of energy theft are detected by meter readers who spot discrepancies. She said SDG&E; also employs revenue protection employees, whose primary responsibility is uncovering such fraudulent cases.
According to the San Diego County district attorney’s office, Goulart also faces criminal charges, and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 18 after entering a guilty plea for interfering with or obstructing a line for transmitting electricity.
In addition to fiscal penalties, Eagleson said: “It’s important to remember that energy diversion is also dangerous. For example, when you try to tap into a live overhead line . . . well, that tends to be dangerous.”