Convicted water thief Frank McLaughlin won a victory in court last week when a judge agreed with his claim that the water bills he was paying to the Birdsboro Water Authority for two apartment buildings he owns could not be justified.
On July 1, District Judge David E. Glass ruled in favor of McLaughlin in two claims he filed in March, writing in both decisions that “it appears that the authority has arbitrarily assigned rates to apartment complexes that are neither reasonable nor fair.”
Noting that he never received a report explaining how the authority calculates those rates, he wrote “trying to understand the published Birdsboro Water and Sewer Authority rate structure is like trying to find a snapper turtle in a muddy pond.”
Glass further noted in his decision that “the water and sewer authority’s appeal process is flawed” advising both McLaughlin and the authority that “it would serve both sides across the aisle to remember more is accomplished with honey than vinegar.”
Matthew Setley, the attorney who represented Birdsboro in the matter, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.
The two suits claimed McLaughlin has overpaid for water service to two apartment buildings he owns — the Chestnut Arms at 700 E. First St. and Maple Springs Apartments at 800 Union St. — both in Birdsboro.
McLaughlin, 48, was seeking $11,000 in damages in one suit and $6,500 in the second.
Glass awarded McLaughlin, a resident of Schoolhouse Road in East Coventry, $5,500 in the first claim and $3,390.05 in the second.
The complaints, filed March 14, make note of the fact that McLaughlin has made “repeated requests” for an adjustment, but that authority officials have “refused and continue to refuse to properly calculate the water bill.”
A time-line in March indicated McLaughlin began complaining about his bills in May 2012, subsequently attending Birdsboro authority meetings and having his lawyer write letters of complaint to the authority.
Finally in a Dec. 28 an email from Borough Manager Aaron Durso, McLaughlin was told that “the municipal authority will stand by its billing process that is in place.”
In the same week in March McLaughlin filed the suit against Birdsboro, he was in Montgomery County Court before Judge Steven T. O’Neill.
O’Neill accepted a plea agreement in the Borough of Pottstown’s case against McLaughlin in which he was charged with by-passing water meters on dozens of Pottstown and West Pottsgrove properties he owns, thereby stealing thousands of dollars worth of water provided by the Pottstown Borough Authority for which he was never billed and never paid.
The devices bypassing the water meters were discovered by the West Pottsgrove fire marshal after responding to a fire call.
The devices were in place for as long as 18 months a period during which McLaughlin’s water bills for as many as 16 of those properties was zero.
In addition to three years probation, O’Neill ordered McLaughlin to pay a total of $28,913 in restitution to Pottstown, including $19,025 in stolen water costs. The remainder of the restitution paid for the borough’s cost to relocate meters from inside McLaughlin’s properties to an outside area so officials can monitor the meters more easily.
It is not McLaughlin’s first run-in with area municipal authorities.
Last September, O’Neil granted McLaughlin a plea bargain of two years probation and a $200 fine connected to a 2011 incident in which McLaughlin admitted to forging a structural inspection report and submitting it to West Pottsgrove Township.
McLaughlin is also the person who provided a personal check to Michelle Borzick Fry, a former zoning work leader in the borough’s codes office, which led to her dismissal in April.