Sitka charter operator pleads guilty to electricity theft estimated at $200K

A photo of an electric meter on the side of a building
Technicians in the Sitka Electric Department first became suspicious when they noticed that the locking seal on Forst’s meter at his Islander Drive home had been replaced with one not supplied by the department. When they pulled the meter and cut the power, equipment inside Forst’s garage continued running. (Robert Woolsey/KCAW)

A Sitka charter operator has pleaded guilty to felony theft of electricity. He’ll have to pay $150,000 in restitution and fines immediately or face additional civil enforcement from the city.

59-year old Richard A. Forst pleaded guilty in Sitka Superior Court on Jan. 31 to one count of theft in the second degree, a felony, and one count of criminal mischief in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor, for the theft of electric power — for at least the last seven years — at his home on Islander Drive and at his dock property on Halibut Point Road.

Forst was arrested and charged in 2019 after technicians with the Sitka Electric Department noticed that a locking seal had been removed from Forst’s electric meter and replaced with another that was not supplied by the utility. When they pulled the meter and cut the power, equipment inside Forst’s garage kept running. The technicians found that two wires had been installed to divert power into the garage while bypassing the meter.

Technicians later found that the meter at Forst’s commercial property at Guckers Island Dock on Halibut Point Road had been bypassed, too. Police investigators found that the bypassed circuits were feeding refrigeration equipment.

Based on the age of the equipment and Forst’s electrical consumption, the department estimated the value of the electricity diverted to be around $200,000.

At Forst’s change-of-plea hearing, municipal attorney Brian Hanson delivered an impact statement on behalf of the community’s rate payers.

“The City and Borough of Sitka is approximately 8,500 citizens: Men, women, and children who live, work, go to school, and recreate in this community,” he said. “They also are electric ratepayers in this community. Some are in poverty, many are low income, and the citizens plead to our assembly to keep the rates of electricity as low as possible. Mr. Forst you stole from those citizens, and you stole from them for years.”

Under the plea agreement, Forst must pay $144,925 in restitution to the City of Sitka and fines of $5,200.

In an email to city assembly members, Hanson wrote that “If Mr. Forst fails to immediately pay the judgement, I will initiate civil enforcement.”

Forst will also be on probation for two years and subject to the the terms of the Court’s “Order to Probation on Suspended Entry of Judgement.” Charges will be dismissed if he completes the terms of his probation by 2024. Otherwise, the judgement will stand and the felony conviction will be entered into Forst’s record.

Superior Court Judge Jude Pate told Forst that, had he not accepted the plea agreement, he could have faced 1-3 years in prison for the original charge of theft in the first degree and paid up to $100,000 in fines. The original charge of criminal mischief in the third degree carried potential jail time of up to two years and a $50,000 fine.

Pate told Forst that something more damaging than theft had taken place.

“The bigger and possibly the more long term harm is, as Counsel Fenske pointed out, tearing at the social fabric,” Pate said.

Forst declined to address the court.

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Robert Woolsey is the news director at KCAW in Sitka.

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