CHICO, Calif. — PG&E blindsided Butte County prosecutors by announcing that it plans to pay $4 million of fines and legal fees for its manslaughter convictions by taking the money from a fund set up for the victims of the Camp Fire and other fires caused by the company's equipment.
"It's PG&E being PG&E," quipped Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey. "I certainly didn't expect that they'd be taking money from the victims to pay their fine. It's just incredibly insensitive."
PG&E, which enjoys a state-sanctioned monopoly over 16 million Californians, announced a plea agreement with Ramsey's office this week.
PG&E agreed to plead guilty as charged to 84 counts of felony involuntary manslaughter and one additional felony for illegally starting the Camp Fire.
The decision to pay the monetary punishment using victim funds "could be" a dealbreaker for the plea agreement, Ramsey told ABC10 in an interview Thursday.
Ramsey pointed out that the hearing to accept PG&E's guilty plea has been delayed to April 24 due to the coronavirus, adding "we'll see if they come to their senses."
PG&E declined to respond to Ramsey, but said in a written statement to ABC10 that "we want to do right by the victims."
The company went on to say that taking the criminal penalty from the victims fund complies with the terms negotiated in bankruptcy court and argued that doing so is intended "to get fire victims paid as soon as possible."
Under the plea agreement, no one from PG&E would go to prison and the company would serve no additional time on probation after it finishes serving less than two more years for federal felony convictions stemming from the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, which killed 8 people.
However, the company agreed to pay the maximum $3.5 million fine and another $500,000 to compensate Butte County for the criminal investigation of the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and surrounding neighborhoods in Concow and Magalia.
In a press release about the plea agreement, Ramsey said the penalties were "separate and apart" from the estimated $13.5 billion settlement PG&E reached with victims of its wildfires.
It was the deadliest wildfire in California history, sparked when an old, worn metal hook snapped on a high-voltage power line during a November, 2018 windstorm.
State investigators found evidence that PG&E knew about the problem with the hook and had made similar repairs to the same part that failed years earlier.
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