It started off as a request for a small amount of copper for charity. It ended up being one costly con. The crooks were ultimately caught, but Seattle City Light is not on the hook for allowing it to happen.
It was a chance meeting last April at a Starbucks in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Building when two men approached Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco as he waited for his coffee.
”These gentlemen presented themselves as members of an Indian tribe working with disabled children and were seeking donation of a small amount of copper,” said Scott Thomsen, spokesman for Seattle City Light.
The men, Michael George (aka Michael Little Bear) and Jim Cost (aka Joe Wolf) were dressed in Native American garb when they told Carrasco they’d use the wire scrap to craft jewelry for charity. Carrasco obliged and directed workers at City Light’s SODO facility to give the men some scrap wire. But the men made off with a lot more then Carrasco intended.
”From a decision to provide a small amount of copper they were able to talk their way into our facility and make off with a much larger amount,” said Thomsen.
Forty-thousand pounds to be exact. And City Light never questioned the men’s so-called charity. When asked if anyone at the utility called to verify the men’s claims, Thomsen replied, “I can only tell you what did happen and a phone call was not made.”
The utility’s own internal investigation and a subsequent review by the city auditor found no wrongdoing by Carrasco or any of his staff. The pair has pulled off their sophisticated scheme in other parts of the country as well. For Seattle City Light, it was a painful lesson learned.
“We know we were duped. That’s why we’ve taken a number of steps to improve our practices and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Carrasco is currently in Washington, DC as part of the “Alliance to Save Energy” and was not available for an interview.
Thomsen says the utility was able to recover all $120,000 worth of scrap wire. The suspects were arraigned in court six months ago but they bailed out and haven’t been seen since.
KING 5 also reached out for comment from members of the Seattle City Council. No one returned our call.
Carrasco is Seattle’s highest paid public employee, earning $245,000 a year. Last week, the council approved a raise for him.