Crime pays. PG&E is the undisputed poster child to support that claim.
The company announces it is going to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for what is reckless criminal behavior that leads to death and its stock soars almost 12.5 percent. The deal includes no jail time for any PG&E executive because prosecutors said too many people over the years had a role in setting in motion the 84 deaths.
It gets worse. PG&E’s own bean counters that answer to the profit-driven Wall Street hedge funds last month gleefully announced PG&E would reach record annual profits of $2.4 billion in 2024. They will do that on the back of you and me, the 16 million ratepayers they are banking on the California Public Utilities Commission allowing them to slap 8 percent rate hikes on each and every year for at least the next four years. That will give them a nice guaranteed profit well in excess of $4 billion just on repairs to the system they intentionally let deteriorate over the years they squeezed maximum profits out of their victims they politely refer as customers.
Keep in mind this plea deal —assuming it is accepted by a Butte County Superior Court judge — is being made while PG&E is on federal felony probation in connection with the eight deaths they caused in the San Bruno natural gas pipeline in September 2010.
Google to your heart’s content, but you will not find another case anywhere that a convicted federal felon while on probation while causing 84 deaths got such a sweet deal.
In fact, you all be hard pressed to find any non-corporation convicted on even one count of involuntary manslaughter for reckless behavior that led to a death of a person in a fire that didn’t have their ability to make money taken away from them by being thrown in jail.
Take the case of Maria Denane Kidd, 55, of Surry County in North Carolina. She received almost three years for the death of her 13-year-old son in a house fire.
Prosecutors concede Kidd did not deliberately start the fire. Investigators determined the fire started with an oil heater. Where the involuntary manslaughter came into play was the fact the house was so heavily cluttered including items stacked up against potential exits that it constituted criminally negligent conduct on Kidd’s part.
Let PG&E’s small standing army of lawyers spin it how they want but is what a 55-year-old mother did in North Carolina maintaining her home much different than what PG&E has done? In a way, however, it is. Kidd wasn’t misleading state regulators by reporting she was doing work that never got done to justify rate increases. She never had her house inspected and given a “fix it” list of pressing safety needs and then ignored the reports and did not make recommended repairs.
There is also now a new standard carved out for the state’s most lethal corporation. Kill someone and the worst criminal charge you will face is a maximum fine of $41,421.57. That’s based on the maximum fine PG&E is accepting for its criminal neglect — $3.8 million — for 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. What message does that send the people who conspired — unwittingly or not — over the years to create the situation that led to the Town of Paradise being almost wiped off the face of the earth, 14,000 homes burned, another 5,000 structures such as schools, churches, and stores destroyed, and 85 people killed given PG&E is fined more for simply lying to the California Public Utilities Commission?
Does anyone believe PG&E as a corporation will start acting any different? Apparently Gov. Gavin Newsom does given how he is now gung-ho about a deal to get PG&E out of bankruptcy so they can get back to what they do best — gouging ratepayers and killing off customers.
Politicians — who by the way take campaign contributions and attend Hawaiian retreats courtesy PG&E — keep embracing the PG&E way.
Between San Bruno and Paradise we know their negligence, criminal and otherwise, have now killed 93 people. That’s not 92 even though the Butte County grand jury concluded the 85th Butte County Fire victim took his own life by suicide when trapped by the wildfire having opted not to suffer the agony of being burned to a crisp PG&E style.
Then there are another 40 or so deaths in the Napa-Sonoma area that PG&E could be facing involuntary manslaughter charges on depending how investigations go.
And let’s not forget the third way PG&E likes to kill people via cancer clusters by saving a few bucks dumping 370 million gallons of toxic chromium wastewater into unlined spreading ponds in the Mojave Desert that ended up contaminating water wells near Hinkley.
PG&E, without a doubt, is a leading killer of people in California more so than any mass murderer yet they are allowed to continue to stay in business and go on to score more record profits.
The CEO Bill Johnson, as an example, will easily pocket at least 6 to 10 times more than the $3.8 million criminal fine for involuntary manslaughter if PG&E comes anywhere near to matching its projected $2.4 billion annual profit in 2024 and its stock rebounds accordingly. That’s because besides being paid $2.5 million a year to oversee the PG&E killing machine, he is also paid in stock. He will benefit handsomely from your increased power bills that will set new national records for rate increases over the coming four years that was all made possible by killing 84 Butte County residents.
We are told that the reason no one is going to jail for killing 84 people and burning down 14,000 homes plus 5,000 other structures is that the evidence showed PG&E’s maintenance problems were the direct result of decisions made by numerous people over many years. Does this mean run-of-the-mill mass killers of people can avoid jail as well if they include “numerous people” as well in the killing of large numbers of people?
Those “numerous people” at PG&E aren’t even paying the fines as it is shareholders although one shouldn’t dismiss the real likelihood the PG&E way of doing business will find a way the CPUC will be oblivious to in order to make ratepayers pay the fines instead.
So what price is PG&E really paying for wanton criminal acts that the judicial systems have confirmed has led to the deaths of 93 Californians so far?
A $3.8 million fine on the promise of $2.4 billion in profits is proportional to someone being fined $180 for killing someone so they can pocket $60,000 and not lose their ability to make money while they also get to stay out of jail.
The next time Newsom brags California is a great place to do business keep in mind he isn’t likely referring to law-abiding Mom & Pop businesses or law-abiding corporations but specifically government protected monopolistic killing machines like PG&E.