A Wales man was arrested for the second time in just over two months and charged with stealing electricity from Central Maine Power by climbing a utility pole and connecting to a transformer with jumper-like cables attached to a line leading to his house.

Maine State Police put Nicholas Gagne, 36, under surveillance Thursday after receiving a tip that he was stealing electricity again just over two months after he was arrested and charged with the same crime.

Trooper Tyler Plourde watched as the alleged serial power thief climbed a CMP utility pole near his home at 237 Oak Hill Road “possibly to disconnect” the wires he had attached to the transformer at the top of the pole.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said that when Gagne saw the state trooper, he scrambled back down the pole and fled into an outbuilding. Gagne eventually emerged and surrendered peacefully.

He now faces charges of theft, criminal mischief and violation of his bail – the latter charge stemming from the alleged theft of electricity from the same utility pole that resulted in his arrest in January. Gagne was being held without bail at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn on Thursday night.

A jail supervisor said it was not possible to interview Gagne by telephone Thursday night. He is tentatively scheduled to make his initial court appearance Friday.

“I don’t know the reason why he did it,” McCausland said Thursday night. “To say it’s bizarre is an understatement.”

A CMP crew was called in Thursday and confirmed that Gagne had rigged an illegal connection using a piece of equipment that resembled a car jumper cable. The cable transmitted electricity from the transformer to a wire that ran from the utility pole to Gagne’s home.

The makeshift setup could have electrocuted him or started a fire, posing a danger to passers-by, CMP officials said.

“What he did was incredibly dangerous. He posed a danger not only to himself, but to the line workers who responded,” CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. “The crew said the lines were extremely hot to the touch, which means they were overloaded and could have caused a fire. It was not a smart thing to do.”

In January, Gagne was arrested and charged with stealing large amounts of electricity from CMP by climbing up the power pole outside his home and using the jumper-cable setup to connect to the transformer and direct power to his house.

CMP went to his home twice to disconnect the power after the company became aware he was siphoning off electricity, but Gagne kept reconnecting it, the company said. Finally, CMP contacted police and asked for an escort to his house. State police said CMP estimated that Gagne stole power valued at more than $3,000.

“When someone steals something from any company, it only raises the cost of the product for all its honest customers,” Rice said.

Gagne has a criminal record that includes two misdemeanor charges in 2006, for refusing to submit to arrest and disorderly conduct in Lewiston, according to records obtained from the Maine State Bureau of Identification. The refusing to submit to arrest charge was dismissed after Gagne pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

After his arrest in January, Gagne was charged with theft of services, a Class C felony offense, and reckless conduct, a Class D misdemeanor.

Molly Hall is executive director for the Illinois-based Energy Education Council, which has the mission of saving lives by providing consumers and public utilities with information about electrical usage. Its educational outreach program, which can be accessed on SafeElectricity.org, was created to promote the safe use of electricity.

Although she was unable to provide specific data, Hall said people across the United States have been seriously injured or killed by tampering with meters and using jumper-cable connections to steal power – a practice known as tapping a power line.

“Unfortunately, theft of power is a widespread problem in the U.S. and other countries,” Hall said. “Thieves sometimes think of it as a crime that won’t hurt anybody, but it costs everyone in lots of ways … power outages, dangerous conditions on the electrical system, not to mention the costs to all consumers. Any attempt to tamper with an electric meter or connect to equipment to steal power is not only illegal, it can be deadly.”

Jim Miles, a former utility company lineman who serves as the manager of safety and loss control for the Illinois Electrical Cooperatives, speculated that Gagne might have some basic knowledge of electricity and power lines, but he said “he could easily have burned his own house down,” because of the huge amount of voltage flowing from the transformer into the makeshift cable.

“It’s a very deadly situation for those folks to be in,” Miles said. “Most people who steal power don’t understand the dangers they are creating.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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