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DWP employee charged in connection with lumber theft

February 6, 2013 | 11:59 am

A city employee was charged Wednesday with 60 felony counts, almost all for possessing illegal weapons, in connection with an investigation into high-end wood he allegedly stole from the Department of Water of Power.

John Joseph Hunten, 45, pleaded not guilty to the charges -- including  allegations he possessed machine guns and a grenade launcher -- at his arraignment Wednesday. He faces at least eight years in state prison if convicted of all counts, prosecutors said.

Hunten is a convicted felon and is not permitted to possess firearms, prosecutors said. He has three Los Angeles County drug and theft convictions from 1992.

Hunten was arrested Friday after Los Angeles police cordoned off the neighborhood surrounding his North Hollywood home when a box marked as containing explosives was found in the garage. Investigators also found a large cache of assault rifles and ammunition at the residence.

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said Friday the agency's security services received a tip about two weeks ago regarding possible theft of building materials by a department employee.

"Security services conducted a preliminary investigation and determined that this matter warranted referral to the Los Angeles Police Department," Ramallo said. Based on that information, police arrested a man Ramallo described as a four-year employee of the department who works as a carpenter.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith confirmed that DWP investigators notified the LAPD's Hollywood Division about the theft of "high-end lumber from the city."

"The followup led them to the North Hollywood home, where they detained one individual and located what's believed to be stolen wood belonging to the city," Smith said.

The wood, a special type of cedar, is very expensive because of its moisture-resistant qualities. It is used for lining in wet environments, such as reservoirs or in high-end home improvement projects such as decks.

Detectives found wood stacked behind the home and also believe that it might have been used to construct a deck at the home. Investigators believe the wood was worth about $100,000.

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— Andrew Blankstein and David Zahniser

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