PG&E Seeks to Pay $4 Million Manslaughter Fine From Victims' Trust

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A PG&E service truck in Paradise, the Butte County town nearly wiped out by the 2018 Camp Fire. (Josh Edelson/AFP-Getty Images)

PG&E said it plans to use money from a $13.5 billion victims' compensation trust to pay a fine stemming from its expected guilty plea — to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully starting a fire — for the utility's role in the devastating 2018 Camp Fire.

"The $4 million fine will be administered as part of the Fire Victim Trust," PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo told KQED Wednesday. "The Fire Victim Trust administration process will begin when PG&E emerges from Chapter 11."

PG&E announced Monday it had agreed to pay $3.48 million to Butte County, plus $500,000 to reimburse expenses related to the criminal investigation into the blaze.

Marie Wehe was among the 85 people killed in the 2018 Camp Fire. (Courtesy of Steven Skikos)

PG&E's latest move outraged fire victims, including Tommy Wehe, whose mother, Marie, was one of 85 people killed in the Camp Fire.

"They want me to pay for the fine for killing my mom," Wehe said in a statement to KQED. "Their greed knows no end. We feel betrayed and we are emotionally and mentally broken by this case."

"I have had it with these criminals. No one is going to jail. Why? Because they are rich and on Wall Street," Wehe added.

The conflicting wishes of PG&E and survivors are both reflected in an order approved by Judge Dennis Montali on Wednesday, leaving open the question of whether the utility will get its way.

"The Debtors believe the [bankruptcy] Plan is clear that the fire and penalty set forth above is a Fire Victim Claim to be paid from the Fire Victim trust," the order reads.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the committee representing wildfire survivors in the bankruptcy insisted on adding disapproving language to be included in Montali's order: "The Tort Claimants Committee has advised the Debtors that they disagree and assert that such fine and penalty is not to be paid from the Fire Victim Trust."

PG&E and the Camp Fire

The Camp Fire destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in Paradise and surrounding towns, including Concow, where Marie Wehe lived.

"PG&E wants to pay for the penalty for killing victims' parents out of the trust that's supposed to compensate them for losing their loved ones," said Robert Julian, an attorney representing the committee for wildfire victims.

PG&E's agreement with the district attorney's office is subject to approval by both the Butte County Superior Court and the bankruptcy court.

While Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey has no jurisdiction over how PG&E pays its fine, he said he hopes PG&E "does the right thing" by choosing not to pay on the backs of victims.

"I believe for PG&E to take money from the victim fund to pay its fine is incredibly insensitive and belies the company’s recent statements of extreme remorse and desire to recompense the fire victims," Ramsey said in an email to KQED.

The utility entered into bankruptcy protection last year as wildfire liabilities mounted. It is aiming to exit Chapter 11 by this summer in order to tap a state wildfire insurance fund.