Two Washington State men have been arrested and charged with vandalizing four electrical substations in the Tacoma area that left thousands without power on Christmas, U.S prosecutors said on Tuesday.
Matthew Greenwood, 32, and Jeremy Crahan, 40, were arrested on Saturday following an investigation by the FBI.
A newly unsealed complaint charged them with conspiracy to damage energy facilities, and it charged Greenwood with possession of a short-barreled rifle and a short-barreled shotgun.
The four substations targeted were the Graham and Elk Plain substations, operated by Tacoma Power, and the Kapowsin and Hemlock substations, operated by Puget Sound Energy.
According to the complaint, Greenwood told investigators after his arrest that the two knocked out power so they could burglarize a business and steal from the cash register. The business was not identified in the complaint.
The damage to the Tacoma Power substations alone is estimated to be at least $3 million.
Power was cut to more than 15,000 customers from the attacks on Dec. 25.
Power Grid Security
Officials have warned that the U.S. power grid needs better security to prevent domestic terrorism. Concerns were highlighted after a large outage in North Carolina last month took days to repair.
“We have seen attacks such as these increase in Western Washington and throughout the country and must treat each incident seriously,” Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a news release.
“The outages on Christmas left thousands in the dark and cold and put some who need power for medical devices at extreme risk.”
At one of the substations, Tacoma Power captured images of one suspect and an image of a pickup truck that appeared to be connected to the attack. A similar pickup truck was connected to the defendants, and when law enforcement served a search warrant on the home of the suspects, they recovered “distinctive clothing” pictured in surveillance photos, according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Two surveillance photos included in the complaint show a white man with a cloth covering part of his face and torso, holding something in his gloved right hand.
Greenwood and Crahan were identified as suspects because location data showed cellphones linked to them to be in the vicinity of all four incidents, FBI Special Agent Mark Tucher wrote in the complaint.
“The substations are spread out over dozens of miles; the attacks occurred early in the morning and in the evening; and the first and fourth attacks were separated by over twelve hours,” the complaint said. “This makes it at least unlikely that an individual would simply happen to be at all four locations around the times they were each vandalized.”
When he was arrested, Greenwood had several articles of clothing that matched images of one of the suspects in surveillance images, and agents found him to have two unregistered short-barreled weapons, the complaint said.
Conspiracy to attack energy facilities is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Possession of an unregistered firearm is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.