Police recently filed misdemeanor charges against a local man who has reportedly been receiving free electricity for six years. The accused is also the administrator of the controversial website, Forest Park Forums.
Fred Broecker, of the 1000 block of Ferdinand Avenue, was charged with unlawful interference with a public utility and theft of labor or services earlier this week, according to police. The charges stem from accusations that he tampered with his meter so he could receive power without it recording the amount used.
On Feb. 16, ComEd was “alerted” that Broecker’s meter was tampered with, according to a police report.
ComEd recently installed a comprehensive, digitized system known as the Smart Grid; which makes tracking energy use, and theft, much easier.
A ComEd contractor went to Broecker’s home, entered his backyard and observed that the resident’s meter had “obviously” been tampered with, according to the police report.
“Two pieces of aluminum were used to complete the circuit and restore electricity to the house,” said Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas.
“The metal piece is in there to make the connection between your fuse box and where the power comes in,” Broecker told the Forest Park Review. “A lot of people know how to do it.”
According to police, the aluminum prongs disabled the meter’s ability to record power usage.
When the contractor entered the backyard, though, an unidentified person supposedly released a dog from inside the house. Subsequently, the contractor contacted his supervisor; and, eventually, the police were notified.
According to a statement given to police, who were also on scene, the reading on Broecker’s meter was dated Jan. 12, 2005.
Police reportedly tried to make contact with Broecker during this investigation, but were unable to do so.
Broecker agreed to discuss the incident with the Review; but, he offered a story that was difficult to comprehend, and, at times, contradicted accounts from several police officers. He said that the notion that he intentionally rigged his meter was “ridiculous.”
“The day before the incident [with the police]… my power went off,” said Broecker, explaining that he was sitting in his house when this happened. After looking outside, he noticed that all his neighbors had electricity.
Broecker said his power was off for about “18 to 20 hours.” During this time, he went out for “four or five hours” to look for a generator – he did this instead of contacting ComEd, which customers generally do if there is a power outage. But, when he returned, he said his power was back on.
Even though the power was supposedly on, Broecker said his friend put “jumper bars” in the meter. The “jumper bars” are the aluminum bars that disabled the mechanism that records that amount of energy used, which were found by police and ComEd on Feb. 16.
“My buddy said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got you hooked up…they [ComEd] shouldn’t have shut you down,” Broecker said. “I said, ‘You know they’re going to come out and see this.”
According to Broecker, he doesn’t have an account with ComEd, and hasn’t had one since 2005 – coincidentally, the same year on which the meter was stopped.
“They dropped my account,” Broecker recalled. He said he discovered it was “dropped” when he went online in 2005 to pay a bill, and his account information was rejected.
In short, Broecker maintains he did not pay for electricity for six years because he was never sent any bills, so he never bothered looking into why he was receiving free power. When asked how his power was on for six years if he wasn’t paying any bills, he said he didn’t know.
“They [ComEd] had my meter going, but they were sending notices…that said, they were aware energy was being consumed,” Broecker said.
“He does admit to knowing that the meter was tampered with at one time,” Aftanas said. “You have to have some kind of knowledge to do this because I’d be afraid of getting electrocuted.”
While conversing with the Review, Broecker called this reporter’s questions an “investigation on behalf of the village.”
In the past, Broecker’s website has drawn the ire of local elected officials and from some residents for its highly critical, and at times, accusatory rhetoric. Many of its harshest critics tend to be supporters of Mayor Anthony Calderone.
Calderone called the website “despicable,” and said it was a “trash container for chronic complainers.”
ComEd is treating the incident as a possible case of energy theft and is conducting an investigation. ComEd Spokesperson Krissey Possey refused to comment on specific questions.
“I’m confident it will get thrown out [in court],” Broecker said of the charges he faces.