As California entered its second year of drought in 2013, the Calleguas Municipal Water District started noticing a series of water deliveries that it couldn’t account for. A truck had been filling up with water at a hydrant in Thousand Oaks, then delivering that water to a ranch in Hidden Valley. When the Calleguas district hired a private investigator to look into the possible water theft, they soon discovered that the alleged vehicle used to transport the water belonged to former “Magnum P.I.” star Tom Selleck.
Despite issuing a cease and desist letter to Selleck in 2013, the water deliveries persisted. As the drought continued into 2015, and with water theft quickly becoming a larger problem, the water district decided to take legal action. On July 6, 2015, the Calleguas district filed a civil complaint in Ventura County Superior Court, suing Selleck in the amount of $21,685.55 along with the cost of hiring the private investigator. 1
While the local sheriff’s department refrained from filing criminal charges against Selleck, harsher penalties for those accused of water theft are on their way as California enters its fourth year of drought. These charges can be serious, but the experienced attorneys at Wallin & Klarich can help if you or a loved one are being investigated or charged with water theft.
While Water Levels Drop, Water Theft Rises
In February 2015, a spokeswoman for the California Association of Water Agencies expressed concern that as water resources become scarcer, there could be an increase in water theft. 2 She was right. In May, 3,000 gallons of water were stolen from an elderly couple’s above-ground storage tank. 3 A state investigation was launched in April looking into missing water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 4 Meanwhile, water districts like Contra Costa in Concord noted a rise in the number of theft reports. 5
While many water districts respond by issuing fines, water theft can lead to additional serious charges depending on the circumstances of the act. The owners of a Northern California nudist resort were charged recently with felony conspiracy to commit trespassing for the purpose of injuring a property right. 6 These charges stem from an alleged instance of diverting water from a local creek to their clothing-optional vacation spot.
In anticipation of the uptick in water theft many water districts are beginning to increase fines for offenders, making it vital for those being investigated or charged to hire effective legal counsel.
The Consequences of Water Theft in California
If you are accused of water theft in California, what penalties can you expect to face? First, depending on which water district you live in, you will likely be fined. In the past, these fines have been as low as $25. With the rise of water theft throughout California, though, many districts are dramatically increasing fines for water theft.
In Fresno, a first-time offender could receive a $500 fine, which jumps to $1,000 for further offenses. Contra Costa Water District brought their fines for first-time offenders up from $25 to $250, with a $500 fine possible for subsequent offenses. 7
Along with those penalties, water theft can lead to criminal charges. In California, a misdemeanor charge of petty theft can be brought when the value of the property stolen does not exceed $950. Under California Penal Code 490, petty theft is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. In instances where the value of the stolen property exceeds $950, you could be charged with grand theft. Grand theft is a wobbler, meaning it could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor grand theft is punishable by up to 364 days in county jail, while felony grand theft carries a sentence of up to three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Call the Theft Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you are accused of water theft in California, you need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich immediately. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been fighting for over 30 years to help our clients achieve the best possible outcomes in their cases. Let us help you now.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney can help no matter where you work or live.
Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245for a free telephone consultation. We will be there when you call.