SEATTLE — A massive copper theft from Seattle City Light began with a chance encounter between the thieves and the head of the utility, according to police and utility reports.
The con men told SLC Superintendent Jorge Carrasco that they worked for a nonprofit and needed wire to help Native American children make jewelry, The Seattle Times reported, citing the reports.
Carrasco dispatched an employee to oversee the donation of a small amount of scrap material at the Seattle City Light Service Center in April 2013.
Lower-level employees helped the con men load the copper into a rental truck and suspected something was wrong but didn’t speak out because they were afraid of being considered insubordinate or disrespectful.
Authorities said 20 tons of wire valued at $120,000 was taken. The men have been charged and the wire recovered by police.
Seattle police records show the men completed a similar scheme at SAFE Boats in Tacoma and Bremerton. The men also were involved in metal thefts totaling several hundred thousand dollars in Crystal Springs, Mississippi; Lewiston, Maine; and San Antonio, Texas, authorities said.
In December, King County prosecutors charged Michael George, Jim Costa and his son, Nick Costa, with first-degree theft and first-degree trafficking in stolen property. The men made bond and have missed court appearances, authorities said. Their whereabouts are unknown.
At City Light, Chief of Staff Sephir Hamilton said no one was disciplined over the theft.
“Ultimately we found a problematic pattern of being able to exploit the policies and procedures we had,” Hamilton said. “We took it as a learning opportunity and took it to heart what happened, which was these scammers exploiting human nature.”
He said the agency developed new policies to prevent the incident from being repeated.
New rules concerning charitable giving require that all requests be put in writing, receive approval by the chief of staff, and be of benefit to City Light and its customers.
“The big thing is stressing that there are no exceptions,” Hamilton said.