"We're not going to tolerate property owners who are playing dangerous games with the lives of our citizens by trying to steal a little from PGW by reversing meters or by illegal gas hookups," Castille said.
PGW estimates that 3,800 thieves steal an average $3.4 million worth of gas a year from the utility, a PGW spokesman said yesterday.
In an effort to crack down on gas thieves, the district attorney announced his office has embarked on a program with PGW to prosecute "the worst offenders." Castille said those named in the warrants had stolen the gas ''for greed."
He said that in Braun's case, a PGW serviceman had discovered a faulty gas connection in an apartment building Braun owns at 1312 N. Sixth St. that had caused two dangerous gas leaks. Castille said that gas leaking from the faulty hookup was "near ignition" and posed a danger to tenants there.
Castille said the serviceman went to Braun's apartment building on Jan. 4, 1986, to terminate gas service for a tenant, and on arriving detected a ''strong odor" of gas. The serviceman asked to see the gas meter, but Braun "flatly refused to provide access to the basement," Castille said.
The serviceman summoned the police and finally gained entry to the basement, where he found the gas meter had been reversed, causing a faulty hookup, Castille said.
The serviceman disconnected the meter, left the building and returned 40 minutes later to find that Braun had reconnected the service line, which caused "another leak and potential for disaster," Castille said.
Braun, who was arraigned at the Police Administration Building yesterday and released on his own recognizance, could not be reached for comment.
His attorney, Bernard L. Siegel, said that his client had a "good and solid defense." Siegel acknowledged that the meter "may have been improperly connected, but there is an explanation." He declined to be more specific.
Castille said his office was prosecuting the 16 cases "to call the public's attention to the seriousness of tampering with PGW service."
All 16 are charged with reckless endangerment, theft and theft of services. Braun and one other person are also charged with risking a castastrophe
because gas leaks were discovered as a result of faulty connections. Castille said maximum possible jail terms for the 16 range from seven to nine years; maximum fines, from $15,000 to $30,000.
The other 15 and the dollar amount of gas they allegedly stole are: Vincent
Mills, 100 block of East Tulpehocken Street, $375; James Butler, 4600 block of North Camac Street, $5,940; Barry Smith, 2500 block of West Dakota Street, $1,183; Richard E. Powers, 2500 block of North Stanley Street, $776; George Mimms, 2900 block of North Eighth Street, $9,820; David Velasquez, 4200 block of North Eighth Street, $886, and Alberto Pagan, 4300 block of North Marshall Street, $294.
Also, Jose Gonzalez, 3400 block of North Front Street, $541; John Collins, 4500 block of Pulaski Avenue, $3,680; William P. Wise, 2300 block of Tasker Street, $89; Raymond Easley, 4000 block of Spring Garden Street, $594; Charles Miller, 4900 block of Pentridge Street, $1,227; Timothy Rollerson, 2200 block of South 56th Street, $1,139; Kenneth Ray, 3700 block of Dungan Street, $779, and Thomas Todd, 1900 block of Greymont Street, $9,741.