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Central Minnesota contractor accused of stealing electricity

Roger Ridler

OLIVIA — An electrical contractor in Olivia is accused of tapping into the Olivia Municipal Utilities electrical distribution system and using an electrical panel in a hidden room to obtain free electricity to air condition his home.

A criminal complaint filed in District Court in Renville County alleges that Roger Bradley Ridler, 41, of Olivia, told police he had tapped into the power before it reached his meter, in part because the city would not give him a rebate for lighting several years earlier.

Ridler, who does business as J & R Electric in Olivia, made his first appearance Thursday, Oct. 18, in Renville County District Court. He is charged with one count of felony theft and one count of gross misdemeanor theft.

He was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to return to court for a settlement conference on Dec. 12.

The criminal complaint states the city lost $925.07 in electrical revenues during an approximately three-year period covered by the statute of limitations. City officials calculate that the city lost $4,092.55 in revenue from Feb. 22, 2008, to May 21, 2018, and are considering civil action to recoup the lost revenues, according to information from the city.

City officials believe the alleged theft of electricity began sometime after 2007, when Ridler is reported to have run the electrical service underground from the utility pole in the alley to his residence.

City officials became suspicious of Ridler's electrical use at his residence in January of 2016 after he attempted to obtain a $400 rebate from the city for the installation of energy-efficient lighting. He had received $400 rebates in 2014 and 2015, and city officials questioned the volume of lighting needed to reach the $1,200 level for a residence.

The city installed a pedestal meter in 2016 to compare the amount of electricity going from the power pole to the residence and the amount of electricity recorded by the defendant's meter. The difference was used to calculate the revenue the city believes it lost.

Based on that information, the Olivia Police Department obtained a search warrant and went to the residence on June 12. According to the complaint, Ridler told officers he had tapped into the power before it reached his meter. He took them to the basement, where a cabinet door in an entertainment center opened to show a small, hidden room that held an electrical control panel that diverted electricity. He also allegedly showed the investigators where the main line was tapped into underneath a deck-like structure.

The city's building inspector expressed concerns that had there been a fire at the Ridler residence, firefighters would be put in danger. They would believe they had turned off electricity to the building before entering it to fight a fire, but would actually be at risk of being electrocuted.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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