FBI investigating break-in at PG&E substation


Wednesday, Apr 01 2015 04:54 PM

FBI investigating break-in at PG&E substation

BY THEO DOUGLAS The Bakersfield Californian tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The FBI’s investigation into a break-in at a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation continues, a bureau representative confirmed Wednesday, though details about the crime remain few. It occurred early Monday at PG&E’s Westpark Substation on the north side of Truxtun Avenue west of Oak Street, according to Katie Allen, a PG&E spokeswoman. Members of the FBI and the Bakersfield Police Department investigated Tuesday, Allen said, though both law enforcement agencies were mum on specifics.

“As an ongoing investigation, I’m unable to provide details,” said FBI Public Affairs Specialist Gina Swankie before declining further comment. BPD spokesman Det. Justin Lewis was unable to provide details on the incident. Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the FBI doesn’t automatically investigate crimes to power company facilities, “although they might look into it just to make sure.”

“Oftentimes, the FBI is involved in a case just to give assistance and that doesn’t mean it’s a federal case,” Horwood said. “It’s quite possible that the FBI is assisting and will determine that it’s not a national security incident and it’ll go locally (for prosecution,) and then if they determine otherwise it’ll come here.”

While no one has said Monday’s break-in has any connection to domestic terrorism, previous crimes against power grid facilities have raised that question, including a mysterious April 2013 attack on a PG&E substation near San Jose. During that incident, gunmen fired at electrical transformers, damaging 17 and inflicting destruction that took nearly a month to repair, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Allen declined to reveal many details about Monday’s crime, including when it was discovered and the extent of any damage, or to discuss the extent to which domestic terrorism concerns PG&E.

“Law enforcement is investigating these motives and we don’t want to speculate about possible motives for this and other incidents,” said Allen, who called safety “our top priority.”

Scott Spielman, Kern County Assistant District Attorney, said his office could prosecute a suspect for trespassing, a misdemeanor, or for commercial burglary if a structure at the substation were broken into. This would be a misdemeanor but could rise to a felony if prosecutors were able to show a suspect intended to commit a theft or other felony inside.

If, however, a suspect only entered the fencing surrounding the property, Spielman said the crime would most likely be prosecuted as misdemeanor vandalism, rising to a felony if prosecutors could prove $401 or more in damages. County prosecutors could also prosecute a suspect for maliciously interfering with an electrical line, either a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the extent of the crime.

However, no suspect information has been released. Spielman said there’s no clear reason why the FBI joined the investigation. “There’s a zillion (reasons) why they could be looking at it,” he said. The break-in did not disrupt service. The Westpark Substation converts high voltage electrical current to lower voltages, then transmits it to a variety of residential and commercial users.