Men Were Filming Power Company HQ during Intentional Outage

Milwaukee (AP) -- Four men were reported taking photos and shooting video outside the headquarters of a transmission company at the same time 17,000 customers lost power in what police have called an act of sabotage.

An employee of American Transmission Company and a security officer from We Energies electric company both reported seeing the men at the side of a highway near ATC's Pewaukee headquarters Saturday night, according to a police report.

That night, two of ATC's 80-foot transmission towers in Oak Creek collapsed, causing a power outage that halted flights from Milwaukee's airport and stopped passenger and freight train traffic for 26 hours.

Oak Creek police and the FBI have said someone removed bolts from the base of at least one of the towers, causing it to collapse into the other tower and leaving high-voltage power lines strung across the railroad tracks.

Investigators have recovered bolts from the heavily wooded area near the towers, and searchers found a pair of linemen gloves marked with the initials ``BG'' that they hope could lead them to the culprits.

Pewaukee Police Chief Gary Bach said his department forwarded the report of the suspicious behavior to the FBI. The Milwaukee County Terrorist Task Force and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also were notified.

``It seemed somewhat coincidental, but if there's any correlation there, we don't know,'' Bach said.

According to the police report, a system operator who was headed to the scene of the outage around 6:30 p.m. saw four men standing a few feet off the highway taking still and video pictures of the ATC headquarters. He notified someone at the office, who called police.

The man at the office said he went to a window and saw three of the men still there.

About an hour later, a We Energies security officer called Pewaukee police to report he had seen four men in the same spot at 6:10 p.m. as he made his nightly rounds. The officer, William Cerar, said two of the men had small, hand-held video cameras and appeared to be filming.

Cerar said he had seen the men laughing as they came out of the woods nearby when he approached.

Investigators searched the woods but found nothing unusual.

Oak Creek Police Chief Tom Bauer said the reports provided important information but investigators weren't sure yet who the men were.

``We don't know if there's any connection or not. Unfortunately we weren't able to locate those individuals so we don't know if there's any connection,'' he said.

Bauer said investigators finished processing the crime scene Wednesday and have about 250 pieces of potential evidence that need examination.

ATC is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever tampered with the towers. Destruction of an energy facility carries a federal penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

ATC spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim said few staff members work at the headquarters on most weekends, and the ATC employees who saw the men were only there to get equipment to go to Oak Creek. She said employees were told to watch for anything suspicious.

``It was certainly curious that it was observed and reported the same night the towers went down. We have no way of knowing if that was purely coincidental,'' Blankenheim said.

She said six wooden towers already have been built to temporarily replace the downed towers, and workers hoped to put the power lines in place Thursday.

Loading