Electricity thieves get community service

POSTED: 02/21/13 9:06 AM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance sentenced yesterday six defendants in separate cases for electricity-theft to conditional prison sentences varying from 1 to 7 months and to community service varying from 20 to 120 hours. The thieves stole between them at least $15,500 worth of electricity.

Two cases stood out: one against businessman Prakashchan Mirchandani who let himself be talked into fiddling with the electricity meters at his Big Sale stores in Philipsburg by Noel Baptiste, a former employee of utilities company Gebe. The store saved thus $12,000 on its electricity bills. The defendant is now in the process of paying the arrears to Gebe in installments. The court sentenced Mirchandani to a 3 month conditional prison sentence, with 2 years of probation and 60 hours of community service.

“Baptiste came to me,” Mirchandani, 44, told the court. “He asked me to manipulate the meters of my stores. I said no, but he kept coming back. In the end he did it on his own. I gave him $150.”

Judge Tamara Tijhuis had read something slightly different in the police report: “To the police you said that he came to you and that he told you he could manipulate the meters so that your electricity bills would go down. You said that you did not appreciate that, but when he kept coming back, you decided in November 2011 to go along.”

Attorney Jelmer Snow said that Gebe had estimated the damages at $12,000 and that his client is in the process of paying this money.

Prosecutor Karola van Nie, appearing in the court in Philipsburg for her first time, noted that the defendant had been unable to resist the temptation. “But electricity theft affects us all,” she said. She demanded a 3 month suspended prison sentence with 2 years of probation, 100 hours of community service and the obligation to complete the repayment to Gebe.

Attorney Snow considered the demand for 100 hours of community service too high and he asked the court for a milder sentence.

The second case that stood out was that of Mercedes Raquel Pena (49) and her husband Antonio Raoul Wong Loi Sing (48). The couple was found guilty of stealing electricity during 18 months, but they both denied their guilt in every possible way. Sing even kept arguing after Judge Tijhuis had pronounced her verdict.

The electricity meter for the couple’s house is located in a closed yard and the defendant said that no one has access to it but them. The seal on the meter was broken and the meter manipulated in such a way that the electricity bill nosedived to just 100 guilders.

The defendants claimed that they traveled a lot, that they had removed all their stuff from the house in 2009 – including fridge, air conditioning and stove – because they intend to move to the Dominican Republic. Sing also claimed that he had solar panels on the roof to save on Gebe-electricity, but that he had later removed them and taken them already to the couple’s house in the Dominican Republic.

Prosecutor Van Nie found it all highly implausible. “The defendants attempt to create the impression that they knew nothing about manipulation of the meter and that they saw no reason to take action after their electricity bills went down. The damages for Gebe are more than 5,000 guilders.”

The prosecutor demanded a 4 month suspended prison sentence against both defendants, with 2 years of probation and 120 hours of community service.

Judge Tijhuis earlier wondered how the couple paid for all their trips abroad. Sing claims to earn 1,500 guilders a month as a newspaper distributor, and Pena claims the same monthly income from street newspaper sales. They also claimed to have a 2,000-guilder mortgage on their house. Asked how they paid for airline tickets, Pena said: “with a credit card.”

Judge Tijhuis considered the charges proven against the two belligerent defendants – who had to be told several times to be quiet and to listen. The judge concluded that the defendants had not given a single acceptable explanation for their low electricity bills or for the fact that the seal on their meter was broken. She sentenced both to a 7-month conditional prison sentence with 2 years of probation and 120 hours of community service, to be completed within six months.

Three other electricity-thieves were also sentenced yesterday. Ronald Oscar Alwyn Coombs, 30, received a 4 week conditional prison sentence with 2 years of probation and 30 hours community service for connecting the main electricity cable to his house after Gebe had taken the meter away for non-payment. The prosecutor had asked a similar sentence, but with 60 hours of community service.

Nathaniel Robelto Marlin, 41, received the same conditional prison sentence with 20 hours of community service, after a demand for 40 hours by the prosecution. Tristan Grisildo Rowland, 32, also received this sentence but with 30 hours of community service, 10 hours below the prosecution’s demand.

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