Police are investigating a longtime JEA employee accused of fiddling with customer accounts to reduce their balances and, in one instance, accepting prescription drugs in exchange for doing so. Stephen Smith, a 14-year JEA employee, was suspended by the city-owned utility last month according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. JEA took the information to police several weeks ago and, while authorities continue to investigate, no charges have been filed, the newspaper reported.
In one instance, the employee is accused of closing an account where a person owed more than $1,000 and putting a different name on the account. The JEA employee then opened a new account with the person's real name, which in effect erased the $1,000 balance from the customer's record. It went unnoticed until the customer bounced a check, the newspaper reported. In these economic times with energy prices on the rise, any news that bills can be manipulated this easily - to benefit the customer or the utility - is a problem for the utility company. But in terms of criminal charges, this case could be problematic for the state.
Smith could be charged with extortion - essentially threatening the customers to pay him in cash or drugs or what have you, but that would be a stretch. A Jacksonville grand theft charge for stealing upwards of $4,000 from JEA on the back accounts is another possibility, but proving how much Smith received is another roadblock. And, this isn't your typical "hand in the till" Duval County employee theft case where a worker is skimming from the register or writing checks to themselves. This is someone acting as a JEA employee and accepting payment to keep people's lights on -- a service he did make good on. Yet another possibility is identity fraud. When Smith put a false name and Social Security number into the system as a dummy account, he used the information from a woman who lives in Tallahassee, police said. Doing so without a person's knowledge is illegal, the newspaper reported.
Police have plenty of choices, but none are without issues. Our Jacksonville Theft Lawyer can find those issues and use them in negotiations or, if need be, in a jury trial. White-collar crime cases can involve high-level computer analysis and our firm can hire experts to show what's really there.
If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Defense Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County theft lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.