A north suburban couple who own a high-end pet food company diverted gas lines, rolled back meters and tapped into high tension electrical lines to provide their manufacturing plant with nearly $2 million worth of free utilities, prosecutors allege.
Joel Sher, 54, and his wife Holly Sher, 52, of Lincolnwood, were charged with felony theft and money laundering Tuesday for allegedly providing free utilities to their company, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food, the Cook County State's Attorney's office said.
Since becoming customers of Nicor Gas in 2003, there have been several reports of unusual activity relating to an illegal gas hookup at the company. The reports ranged from tips provided by employees to the discovery of an illegal hookup by Wheeling police and firefighters responding to a gas leak at the factory, the release said.
In 2009, the state's attorney's office uncovered evidence that employees had been directed by the Shers not to allow Nicor officials on the premises to read gas meters, the release said. Joel Sher allegedly ordered employees to use jackhammers to dig through concrete and asphalt to divert gas lines and even supplied them with a tool to help roll back meters.
Prosecutors also allege the Shers directed employees to steal electricity by attaching wires and fuses to high tension lines to redirect power.
Prior to an inspection, one employee was given rubber gloves and directed by Joel Sher to be lifted by a forklift to disconnect an illegal bypass attached to a power line, the release said.
"The brazen nature of these thefts is exceeded only by the dangerous conditions that these individuals were willing to expose their employees to," State's Atty. Anita Alvarez said.
Investigators, working with the Wheeling police, Nicor and Commonwealth Edison, conducted a detailed analysis of the factory’s operations and determined about $1,728,000 in gas and electricity had been stolen, the release said.
State’s attorney's office investigators seized $2.3 million from a Chicago bank account belonging to the Shers as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation, the release said.
Bond was set Wednesday at $250,000 for Joel Sher and $200,000 for Holly Sher by Judge Donald Panarese. The judge also ordered both defendants to surrender their passports until their next hearing on April 14.
Evanger's, located in Wheeling, produces "Super Premium" dog and cat food for the private label market, according to the company Web site. It offers the services of “formula specialists” who offer pet owners ustom recipes for their particular pet. The company, which even produces a line of kosher pet products, was featured on an episode of the Rachel Ray show in March 2008.