Jacob C. Brewer,  Michelle L. Phipps

Two Franklin County residents pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to disabling railroad equipment. 

According to the federal indictment, between Feb. 1 and Feb. 22, Jacob C. Brewer, 30, Beaufort, and Michelle L. Phipps, 27, Washington, removed aluminum stabilizing braces from railroad freight cars. The braces are designed to keep the freight cars from derailing when fully loaded and moving.

The railroad freight cars are owned by Ameren and were used to transport coal from Wyoming to Missouri. The couple later sold the aluminum braces to local recycling centers. They appeared before U.S. Court Eastern District of Missouri Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. Sentencing has been set for June 6.

This charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $250,000 or both. Restitution to the victim is also mandatory. In determining the actual sentences, a judge is required to consider the U.S. sentencing guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.

This case was investigated by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gil Sison is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The suspects were arrested Feb. 14 by Franklin County deputies.

According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, the then 29-year-old Beaufort man and a 26-year-old Washington woman, who were not identified at the time, were spotted at 2 p.m. near the railroad tracks near Highway EE and Paige Marie Drive by an Ameren Missouri employee.

Deputies responded to the area and located the suspects, who admitted to removing aluminum from the boxcars to sell. Aluminum parts from the boxcars were located near the suspects and also in the vehicle they were using.