Police recently filed misdemeanor charges against a local man who has reportedly been receiving free electricity for six years. The accused is also the former 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 last week, according to police. The charges stem from accusations that he tampered with his meter so he could receive power without recording the amount used. After the Forest Park Review posted a Web story on the incident on March 3, Broecker shut down the site for two days to post a message denouncing the article, the newspaper and its publisher and editor.
On Feb. 16, ComEd was “alerted” that Broecker’s meter was tampered with, according to a police report. The company recently installed a comprehensive, digitized system known as the Smart Grid, which makes tracking energy use – and theft – easier.
A ComEd contractor went to Broecker’s home, entered his backyard and saw that the resident’s meter had “obviously” been tampered with, according to the 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 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, police were notified.
According to a statement given to officers who were also on scene, the reading on Broecker’s meter was dated Jan. 12, 2005.
Broecker agreed to discuss the incident with the Review, but said 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 saw 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 – instead of contacting ComEd about the outage. 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 the 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 shouldn’t have shut you down,” Broecker recalled. “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. Prior to this, Broecker paid his energy bills “for 25 years,” he said.
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 could be on for six years if he wasn’t paying any bills, he said he didn’t know.
“[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.”
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, as the site was often critical of him.
Calderone called the website “despicable,” and said it was a “trash container for chronic complainers.”
Sharon Daly – alias “Citizen,” on Forest Park Forums – disagrees. She sees the Forums as a vehicle for conversation.
“Forest Park Forums is an opportunity to delve into topics, to have some fun, to go deeper,” she said. “It allows for discussion, a back-and-forth, a dialogue.”
“A letter to the editor [of the Review], there’s no back-and-forth. You can’t converse. It’s pretty static,” she added.
After the story was published last week, Broecker shut down his chat room and posted a statement that blamed this newspaper’s reporting, which he claimed was inaccurate, for the site being turned off. He pointed to no specific inaccuracies, however.
“I don’t feel that way,” said Daly, when asked about the notion that the Review was somehow responsible for Broecker’s decision to shut down his site. “It was a personal decision.”
In the days following the March 3 Web post, the Forums have been up and down. At one point it existed as a single Web page on which Broecker blasted the newspaper and published the contact information of its editor. Then a reincarnated site was launched and administered by another person. On Monday, Broecker, who now wishes to be known as “X-Admin” announced he was handing over ownership of the site to his co-administrator “Watcher.” At press time, though, www.forestparkforums.com was down.
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.