Hank’s Corner Bar, the popular bar and grill in Tacoma’s North End known for its pizza, was dark for the last week, shuttered after Tacoma Power pulled its meters.
On Friday, the restaurant at 524 N. K St. paid the utility more than $64,000 to get its lights turned back on.
That was the cost to get back up and running after an investigation found diversion devices on the restaurant’s electric meters that TPU said tricked the meters into thinking less power was being used, allowing the restaurant to pay less on its electric bill.
Hank’s manager Seth Colby denied that anyone from the restaurant had knowledge or was involved in putting the device on the meter.
“Basically, what happened was someone at some point put something on the meter to divert power,” Colby said earlier this week. “We went through a huge remodel two years ago, but nobody here sees any realistic situation where someone would put this on intentionally.”
According to a TPU spokeswoman, the utility’s investigation showed the diversion devices had been there since about August 2008, or nearly a decade.
TPU estimated Hank’s had used, but not paid for, about $63,715 worth of power during that time. The utility charged the restaurant another $460 for the work utility crews did over the last week as they investigated the issue.
“It’s pretty clear it was intentional,” TPU spokeswoman Chris Gleason said Friday. “We don’t know who did it, we have no way of knowing that, but it’s very clear this was not an accident. Someone intentionally put this on there.”
She added that the current owners have owned the building since 2003.
The utility uncovered the diversion of electricity at Hank’s while investigating an error message it got on one of the restaurant’s meters, Gleason said.
“For this one we got an error notice for the meter read so we went out to look at it. We have meter readers who go out every two months and read meters, they often are the ones who catch it,” she said. In this case, the diversion was put in in a place where someone reading a meter wouldn’t typically check, she said.
Three apartments connected to the building had no diversion devices on their meters, she said.
There were two kinds of diversion devices on the restaurant’s two meters, she said. One was a shunt, which diverted some of the power from going through the meter. The other was a wire in another meter that had much less electricity flowing through it, she said.
Utility staff looked at the restaurant’s history of electric usage over years, and noticed a huge drop-off in August 2008, she said.
“We estimated how much electricity we thought had been used between what they paid for and what the estimated usage was without the diversion device in,” Gleason said. “The total cost of that for that time frame was just over $64,000.”
According to Gleason, a TPU attorney said that in his time at the utility, it had never sought criminal charges against a business for something like the diversion devices.
For businesses, diversions are a fairly infrequent occurrence, she said. On the residential side, though, the utility handles reports of people tampering with their meters just about every day.
“From a diversion standpoint, they’ll find meters where people have stuck knives and paper clips and things in trying to slow down the meter,” Gleason said.
“It’s extremely dangerous to do that because there is electricity flowing through this thing … think about sticking a fork into an outlet.”
TPU is continuing its investigation and might end up with a different dollar figure than the roughly $64,000 Hank’s has paid. That figure could be more or less, Gleason said.
As for the restaurant, its Facebook page said it expected to be back in business Friday night.
“Your patience and support have been overwhelming,” a post said. “Today is the day! We are cleaning and waiting on orders to arrive, but we are hoping to be open around 8 or 9 this evening!!!”