Two Franklin County residents were arrested Friday on federal charges of removing aluminum braces from railroad cars.

Jacob Brewer, 28, Beaufort, and Michelle Phipps, 27, Washington, were indicted by a federal grand jury on July 19 on one felony count of violence against railroad carriers. They appeared in federal court Friday morning.

According to the federal indictment, between Feb. 1 and Feb. 22, Brewer and Phipps disabled railroad on-track equipment, by removing aluminum stabilizing braces from railroad freight cars. The braces are designed to keep the freight cars from derailing when fully loaded and moving.

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.

The railroad freight cars are owned by Ameren Missouri and were used to transport coal from Wyoming to Missouri.

If convicted, Brewer and Phipps face up to 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Restitution to the victim is 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.

As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.