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Men attacked Pierce County power stations to commit burglary, feds say


When vandals attacked four electrical substations in Pierce County, Wash., on Christmas Day, reportedly cutting power to over 15,000 customers and causing at least $3 million of damage, investigators were alarmed — and initially stumped.

The attacks came on the heels of similar incidents affecting eight substations in Washington, Oregon and North Carolina in November and December. Gunfire struck two substations in Moore County, N.C., in December in what investigators described as a deliberate attack, cutting power to around 45,000 households and businesses and disrupting a drag show.

But a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson told The Washington Post that the location of the Christmas Day attacks, in a largely rural portion of Washington south of Seattle, had them confused.

“If it was a message, who is it for? Or is [it] just some people pulling a prank?” Sgt. Darren Moss Jr. said at the time.

On New Year’s Eve, officials neared a possible answer when they arrested two suspects and charged them with conspiracy to damage energy facilities. A criminal complaint filed Tuesday revealed what investigators believe to be their motive: facilitating a burglary at a local business.

Matthew Greenwood, 32, allegedly told investigators upon arrest that he and Jeremy Crahan, 40, attacked the power stations and then broke into a local business and stole from the cash register, according to the complaint.

4 Wash. power stations vandalized amid unsolved incidents nationwide

Greenwood entered the Pierce County substations by using a bolt cutter to break through padlocks and chain-link fences while Crahan served as his getaway driver, investigators allege. Puget Sound Energy and Tacoma Power, which operate the attacked substations, reported that an intruder caused outages by tampering with circuit breakers and, in one instance, trying to pry open a linkage, causing it to spark, court records state.

According to the complaint, damage at two of the substations will take up to 36 months to repair and has forced Tacoma Power to use mobile transformers to maintain power in the meantime at a greatly reduced output.

During the power outage, Greenwood and Crahan allegedly drilled out a lock at the local business while the power was out and stole from the cash register. Investigators did not name the business in the complaint.

The two were also charged with possession of an unregistered firearm after officers recovered a shotgun and a rifle with a homemade silencer from a trailer at a residence the pair allegedly frequented.

Both men are in custody in Seattle, according to a U.S. attorney’s office spokesperson. An attorney for Greenwood declined to comment. An attorney for Crahan said he anticipates his client will plead not guilty.

The outages on Christmas left thousands without electricity and heat, including some who need power for medical devices, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a Justice Department news release on Tuesday.

“We have seen attacks such as these increase in Western Washington and throughout the country and must treat each incident seriously,” Brown said.

Attacks on U.S. power grid infrastructure have surged to their highest yearly level since at least 2012, according to a Politico analysis of Energy Department data in December, which includes threats of attacks or acts of vandalism. Experts warned that the country’s large network of local substations is vulnerable to attacks that could cause widespread outages. The Department of Homeland Security in late November issued a bulletin that included “U.S. critical infrastructure” among potential targets of violence by terrorism threats.

Investigators identified Greenwood and Crahan through surveillance footage at the substations and cellphone records, according to the complaint. Investigators found two phone numbers whose registered devices were around all four substations at the times of the attacks. They allegedly were linked to Google accounts in Greenwood and Crahan’s names.

Upon serving a search warrant on the residence that the pair frequented in Puyallup, a Pierce County city about 35 miles south of Seattle near the attacked substations, investigators said that on Dec. 31 they recovered bolt cutters, clothing similar to that worn by figures seen on surveillance footage and the unregistered firearms. Greenwood and Crahan were detained the same day.

Greenwood and Crahan appeared in court in Tacoma on Tuesday and have detention hearings scheduled Friday and next week, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Conspiracy to damage energy facilities carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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