JEA worker pleads guilty to grand theft, gets prison time for altering customer accounts

A JEA worker was sentenced to 13 months in prison for changing customer account records, resulting in an estimated $50,000 in lost revenue to the Jacksonville city-owned utility. Stephen Smith pleaded guilty last week to second-degree grand theft in Duval County, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. After his prison term, he’ll be on Jacksonville probation for two more years, the newspaper reported. The 14-year employee will also forfeit his pension as a part of his deal and the money will be used to pay back the utility for its loss.

Smith pleaded guilty to entering the JEA system and closing accounts with large balances, then reopening another account in the same person’s name so the customer’s outstanding balance was wiped away, according to a newspaper report when Smith was first suspended without pay in March. Utility officials were waiting for the legal case to play out before firing him, but his termination is now inevitable.

Smith also faced Jacksonville fraud and identity theft charges because he was using social security numbers and other personal information to start the various accounts. Smith’s Jacksonville criminal defense in the case was likely very limited, especially because all of his work would have most likely been traceable through the JEA computer system. In initial media reports, people claimed to have paid a JEA worker cash to settle an account, though it’s not clear how much money Smith received himself. Regardless of how much money Smith himself received, the theft is calculated on the loss of revenue to JEA. By changing the records, he was stealing from JEA – whether the money ended up in his pocket or not. What his motivation was and how he benefited from the theft are more for the sentencing phase of his case than for determining his guilt or what crimes he could be charged with.

Crimes that occur on the job like this can be devastating for the defendant. In Smith’s case, his retirement thus far is completely gone. Even if it was not part of the plea deal, he likely would have lost it anyway. The state of Florida allows for employees who commit a felony in Jacksonville or anywhere else related to their job to have their pension revoked. Most local retirement plans like the city pension JEA employees are part of have that same provision. The pension money likely had to be the source to pay JEA back because when Smith returns from prison, he will undoubtedly have a difficult time finding work with this conviction on his record. There are so many qualified people looking for work that employers don’t have to take a risk by hiring someone who went to prison for stealing from their employer.

Our Jacksonville Theft Attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with stealing everything from thousands of dollars to a few items from a store. In many cases, there are diversionary programs available for first-time offenders that could allow you or your loved one to avoid jail time, depending on the charge.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Theft Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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