Oklahoma Borough man gets house arrest for stealing natural gas; how much still debated
An Oklahoma Borough man will serve five years on probation and a year of house arrest for his role in what Westmoreland County prosecutors continue to maintain is the theft of more than $200,000 of natural gas.
Jeffrey Zinchini, 60, avoided jail time as part of a sentence announced Thursday.
Imposition of his penalty was deferred for at least three months to allow a judge to determine the amount of restitution that should be repaid to Peoples Natural Gas, which owned a pipeline from which prosecutors said the gas was stolen.
Zinchini, following a four-day trial in December, was convicted of felony theft and a charge of reckless endangerment. Jurors acquitted Zinchini of one count of tampering with property.
Prosecutors said Zinchini, owner of Winfall Energy in Allegheny Township, tapped in to a 3-inch service line from an abandoned pipeline owned by People’s Natural Gas that previously supplied the Vandergrift Golf Course on Community Park Drive.
He sold gas stolen from the pipeline and sold it to his own customers, prosecutors said.
The jury found Zinchini guilty of stealing gas valued between $2,000 and $100,000.
In court on Thursday, Westmoreland County Court Judge Tim Krieger said that because of the range in the value of the stolen gas was so wide Zinchini’s sentence should be based on a lesser amount of stolen gas that did not exceed $25,000.
“I’ve always admired independent operators such as yourself. If there are any self-made men left in this country, it is these individuals, oil and gas men like you,” Krieger said, noting that he gave the benefit of doubt to Zinchini when considering the value of the stolen gas.
In addition to the probation and house arrest terms, the judge ordered Zinchini to pay a $5,000 fine.
In doing so, Krieger rejected a recommendation from Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan to have Zinchini serve up to three years in prison.
Flanigan argued that trial evidence proved Zinchini from 2009 through 2013 sold $206,000 of gas more than what was produced from wells he owned.
Flanigan said that valuation was based on Zinchini’s own records and was on the low end of theft estimates that could have reached more than $1 million.
Defense attorney Al Lindsay said that jurors concluded the theft could have been as low as just $2,000, and that the actual loss is still an unanswered question.
“This was a matter of throwing a dart at the wall,” Lindsay said. “It’s simply a wild guess.”
Krieger said he will conduct a second sentencing hearing in about three months to determine the amount of restitution owed by Zinchini.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .