SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Water System has begun making changes to prevent the theft of its water meters in the wake of the arrests of a former employee and his wife, who are accused of committing that type of crime.
Albino Ortiz, 34, and his wife, Maria Zuniga-Ortiz, 32, were taken into custody Tuesday, each on six counts of theft.
An arrest warrant affidavit stated that an agent with the Department of Public Safety uncovered the case during a regulatory inspection at an unnamed metal recycling business last July.
The affidavit stated that the investigator noticed someone had sold a large amount of brass water meters and water meter parts to the local business during an eight-year period beginning in 2006. Later, he determined that the couple was responsible, the affidavit stated.
The husband reportedly admitted during an interview with the investigator that he stole the meters and had his wife sell them, the affidavit stated.
"Unfortunately, this is a situation, not only here in San Antonio and not just with SAWS, but across the country," said Anne Hayden, spokeswoman for SAWS. "With the metals market right now, there's a problem with theft of brass and copper, anything that can be resold."
The water meters, she said, are SAWS' "cash registers." Affixed to homes and businesses throughout the city, they help the utility determine how much water is being used, and ultimately, how much customers should be billed.
According to the affidavit, Albino Ortiz worked for SAWS at the time of the thefts. Hayden said although he was part of the meter-reading team, Ortiz no longer is employed by the utility.
Hayden was not able to offer an explanation for how Ortiz allegedly stole the meters and how the thefts went undetected for so long.
She said that most of the thefts occurred while he was an employee of BexarMet. Later, she said, he became a SAWS employee, when that company took over BexarMet in 2012.
In light of what allegedly has happened, Hayden said SAWS has begun making changes to prevent future thefts.
"We work daily with the police department, as well as looking at implementing different loss-prevention policies," she said.