By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — A North Attleboro man who owned a Lawrence laundromat was indicted yesterday for tampering with gas meters and stealing more than $214,000 in natural gas.
Steven R. Bankert, 56, was also indicted by a statewide grand jury for failing to file income tax returns for six years, according to a statement released by Attorney General Martha Coakley's office.
From 2008 to 2012, Bankert, a licensed electrician and former owner of laundromats in Lawrence, Attleboro, Brookline and Worcester, is accused of tampering with 10 gas meters at six laundromats he owned "for the purpose of stealing natural gas," according to Coakley.
He is accused of stealing $205,000 in gas from Columbia Gas and more than $9,000 from NStar.
Also, Bankert failed to file income tax returns from 2006 to 2011, Coakley said.
In May 2011, Bankert was arrested and charged by Lawrence police for stealing $55,000 of natural gas to fuel dryers at Laundry World at 351 Broadway. At that time, Bankert provided free dryer service to his laundromat customers.
The alleged theft in Lawrence was discovered when a police sergeant was sent to Laundry World to standby while Columbia Gas workers removed a gas meter there.
At that time, police said Bankert's record included a history of building code violations, forgery, receiving stolen property, destruction or property and one specific incident where a water meter was vandalized in Attleboro.
Coakley's office started investigating Bankert in August 2011 after Columbia Gas filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office. The company suspected tampering and theft of gas by Banket because of low and erratic consumption patterns, according to the statement released yesterday.
A statewide grand jury returned the indictments against Bankert yesterday. He will be arraigned on the following charges at a later date; larceny of property valued over $250, six counts, willful injury or interference with a gas meter or other property, 10 counts, and failure to file income tax returns, six counts.
"He allegedly manipulated the meters in order to bilk utility companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars," Coakley said.
The case is being prosecuted by Coakley's office along with assistance from the Department of Revenue and State Police.
Attempts to reach Bankert for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. A phone listing for him in North Attleboro has been disconnected.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.