Stealing electricity

March 6, 2009 8:50:15 PM PST
It's a tragedy that didn't have to happen. In 2007 a mother and her four children die in West Philadelphia house fire. The cause, electrical wiring connected to an illegal hookup.RELATED: Photos of an illegal electrical hookup

Then Thursday morning, another mother and her child are killed in a South Philadelphia house with another illegal electrical hook-up.

"They're wrong intentions, it starts out wrong and it ends wrong," said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

"These are people who put themselves at tremendous risk," said Michael Wood of PECO.

PECO says stealing electricity has been a problem even before this failing economy. And more often than not, many of the offenders commit this crime over and over.

40-year-old Robert Callo is accused of being a repeat offender. Last year, a PECO surveillance camera set up outside his West Milne Street home in Germantown captured video on an illegal hookup.

The video appears to show Callo on top of a portion of his roof rigging up a homemade connection to the electrical line.

Still photos show clamps attached to the main power line and the wiring exposed from the insulation. When Action News showed the photos to the fire commissioner he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"This is just, we call this ugly stuff," Ayers said. "Fire waiting to happen."

Callo is in police custody on charges including criminal conspiracy and theft of services.

PECO won't say exactly how many cases of illegal theft it deals with in a given year but it's big enough that it has a special team to search for illegal hookups and shut them down.

"We got a report that the meter was removed from this property," a PECO worked told us.

PECO's investigative crew invited our cameras along with them to the 3900 block of Girard Avenue in West Philadelphia. The meter was missing from the vacant home which they say is a sign theft may have taken place. But it also leaves behind a potentially deadly situation if anyone were to touch it.

"There is voltage, 243 volts."

The crew de-energized the meter and covered it, effectively shutting down power to that property.

It was a similar situation around the corner in the 3800 block of Poplar Street. In that case PECO even removed the extra wiring someone had rigged to the power line.

PECO says this puts all neighboring homes at risk for fire and it needs people to watch for illegal hookups.

"We want to hear about that as urgently as possible," Michael said.

And if you find yourself in a position where you're struggling with your bills, PECO says do not resort to theft of service, call them first for help.

"Whether it's discounted rates, energy assistance grants, energy audits, financial counseling, social services, we can help customers."

For more information:
PECO Energy Fair, Saturday, March 7th 10am-3pm
PECO Customer Service: 1-800-494-4000
Emergency Line (for use to report power outages): 1-800-841-4141
Revenue Protection Hotline (for use to report illegal connections): 1-866-414-1854