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Meter tampering go-between handed tough sentence

The court accused the man of corruption and fraud after it was found that he went around to shops offering to install low-reading smart meters.

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
5 October 2017, 12:30pm
A court has ordered the perpetual general interdiction of a man who acted as a go-between for consumers and corrupt public officials in a 2014 electricity theft scheme.

Martin Cilia la Corte, a Civil Protection Department employee, was also handed a two year prison sentence, suspended for four, together with a fine of €12,565, placed under a supervision order for two years and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service after he was found guilty of corruption and fraud.

Cilia la Corte had initially been accused of bribery of public officials and complicity in the corruption of a government employee, conspiracy to defraud and complicity in defrauding Enemalta out of over €12,500, after the company discovered that he had been approaching consumers and offering them tampered meters.

The accused never contested the fact that the meters had been tampered with and pleaded guilty to the fraud charges. He consented to his case being tried summarily by the court of Magistrates.

Enemalta had brought in the police after receiving a number of reports that Cilia la Corte, a Civil Protection Department employee, had been offering to install low-reading smart meters against a one-time payment ranging from €1200 to €5200 during the switchover to smart utility meters.

The accused would act as an intermediary, approaching the customers and offering to put them in touch with someone who would install a tampered meter.

So many smart meters were found to have been tampered with that the authorities had agreed to waive criminal proceedings against the end users, under the Permanent Commission Against Corruption Act, as long as the tampered meters were deposited in court.

13 end users testified, one of whom recalling how he had been approached by the accused on a break from work, after he had been complaining about his high electricity bills. Cilia la Corte had told the man that he had a faulty meter and that he could give him a number for someone who would fix the problem straight away as it was “useless” to call Enemalta.

Paul Pantalleresco, who was later charged in separate proceedings with installing tampered meters,  had then come to his house to change the device he said.

The owner of a furniture showroom testified to the accused visiting his shop, first posing as an interested buyer, but who then turned the topic of conversation on to his electricity consumption. “After some discussions over furniture, he said ‘who knows how high your electricity bill here is, right?’ I thought that he was a salesman who had come to sell me some solar panels. Then he said that we can tamper the meter.” After a number of visits from the accused, the businessman finally gave in and paid Cilia la Corte Lm700 (equivalent to €1,600).

A police sergeant explained how a device that could be used to tamper with the meters had been found in technician Pantellereco’s garage. Pantelleresco told the police that he had built it to show Enemalta how the meters could be opened and tampered with, so that it could take precautions and not buy those meters again.

The court was told that Enemalta had successfully recovered €86,000 of the amount underpaid and that the accused, Cilia la Corte, had volunteered further information to the company that led to a breakthrough in their investigations. The company had no interest in him going to prison, a representative said.

But the court also noted how Cilia la Corte had identified Pantalleresco as a useful tool to be exploited and had changed his work schedule to allow him to service these clients.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech held that it had been amply proven that Pantalleresco had been paid by the accused to not perform his duties and the corrupter had shared the takings equally with the persons corrupted.

In its considerations on punishment, the court underlined the fact that the accused had left the national electricity supplier a victim of massive electricity theft worth thousands of euros.

The man was a public officer and this was not his first conviction, noted the court, telling him that society expected better from persons in his position.

“The accused’s modus operandi was shameless; he didn’t hold back from inviting persons at work, who were minding their own business, to get involved in the theft. Without taking anything away from the reprehensible and unscrupulous actions of the consumers themselves, it was the accused who craftily, possessed by greed for money at the expense of others, led several family men to the doorstep of criminality.”

On the other hand, the court took into consideration the accused’s role in identifying further electricity theft and his efforts to address the damage he had caused.  

Cilia la Corte was declared guilty of corruption and fraud and handed a 2 year prison sentence, suspended for 4, together with a fine of €12,565- equivalent to the amount of ill-gotten gains he made. He was also placed under a supervision order for 2 years and ordered to perform 100 hours of community  service. The court also imposed a perpetual general interdiction on the man.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...