WAUKESHA, Wis. - A man has been charged with trimming his utility bill by $24,000 over three decades by using a valve to bypass his natural gas meter.

Guenther Huebner, 66, was charged Wednesday in Waukesha County Circuit Court with felony theft and a misdemeanor count of fraudulent tapping of a wire, meter or pipe. His initial court appearance was set for Nov. 12.

His case marks the third such theft case filed against a Waukesha County resident in 18 months.

Jeff Meyer, an investigator for We Energies, said an investigation into Huebner was sparked by one of numerous tips the utility received in late 2005 after another case came to light.

In that case, Warren J. Krohn, also of New Berlin, was accused of ducking at least $36,000 in charges by bypassing his gas meter to heat his in-ground swimming pool and two buildings, Meyer said.

The tip concerning Huebner came from a caller who said his bypass was installed "when the swimming pool was put in about 20 years ago," according to the criminal complaint in the case.

The complaint said investigators found the bypass and a second line leading to the basement of Huebner's home during an excavation of the gas line in 2006.

The second line avoided the meter while the metered line had a valve attached to it that stopped the flow of gas passing through the meter, the complaint said.

Huebner investigators he saw "the bypass in his basement about 30 years ago, but forgot about it until the other day," the complaint said.

Meyer said it's unclear how many underground taps are out there but the utility is trying to locate them.

"My fear is we're going to discover one of them after something burns down and somebody dies," he said.

Krohn was sentenced in July to nine months in jail, and ordered to pay $29,185 back to the utility and $25,000 in fines.

Ricky E. Adair, 45, of Menomonee Falls, was charged in May with theft. He was accused of avoiding as much as $8,462 in charges by installing a bypass to heat his garage. That case is still pending.

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