Dec. 30, 2004 – Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt's report detailing what appears to be blatant thievery of power from the Water and Power Authority by customers and employees has sparked response now that it has been made public. (See "WAPA Audit Charges Employees and Residents With Blatant Theft and More").
The report may have lain dormant in the attorney general's office since it was received by former Attorney General Iver Stridiron last May.
But since the report was made public this week, acting Attorney General Alva Swan has told a radio audience the resources of the attorney general's office will be committed to helping WAPA with any possible criminal prosecutions.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of WAPA, said Thursday he was drafting a letter to Swan to get that commitment in writing.
Bruno-Vega said in his letter he was going to ask the attorney general to look at the cases documented in the inspector general's report and pursue anyone guilty of stealing power "to the fullest extent of the law." He also said in his letter he will offer WAPA's full cooperation to the attorney general's office.
It was at Bruno-Vega's insistence that the inspector general's investigation was conducted. Bruno-Vega said, "We had our suspicions, but we wanted to know the truth. This report corroborates our suspicions."
Bruno-Vega said two types of punishment could result for employees, if any are found guilty of stealing from WAPA. He said WAPA will take its own internal actions and then any criminal prosecution would be left up to the attorney general's office.
In the agreement between WAPA and the inspector general, WAPA gave the inspector general's office $150,000 to conduct the investigation.
Van Beverhoudt said his office hired one full-time investigator. The other people involved in the investigation came from his office and were assisted by WAPA employees. He said in the beginning the investigation, which lasted several months, had three two-man teams on the ground on St. Croix, but for most of the time there were only one or two teams.
Van Beverhoudt said not all the funds were used and about $87,000 would be returned to WAPA.
Bruno-Vega said that in the long run the investigation will probably save ratepayers money. He said, "Once the public becomes aware of the drastic penalties and the embarrassment, people will think twice before stealing power."
The report said WAPA loses an estimated $3 million a year to theft.
Although Bruno-Vega and Swan appear to be communicating, van Beverhoudt has gotten little in direct response from them about his office's report. He said Thursday the only communication he received from the attorney general's office concerning the report was a letter, dated May 20, confirming it had been received.
He also was wondering how WAPA was responding to the 27 recommendations made in the report.
Bruno-Vega had made a written response to a draft of the report saying that most of the recommendations would be pursued. Van Beverhoudt said he had no documentation confirming that was happening.
Specifically, he had questions about WAPA's effort to reseal and re-calibrate the estimated 25,000 meters it has on St. Croix.
Bruno-Vega admitted that project had gotten off track. He said the tropical storms had set it back. He said WAPA is now trying to rehire retired WAPA workers, familiar with meters, to get the project back on line. He said most commercial meters on St. Croix have been resealed and re-calibrated. Projections are that all residential meters will be done by the middle of next year.
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