HAINES CITY, Fla. - If you're getting something for nothing, or even almost nothing, you might want to question where it's coming from. Seven residents in Haines City and Davenport in Polk County learned that the hard way, when they were arrested for stealing electricity from their local power company.
Duke Energy notified Polk sheriff's investigators about unusually low power bills, and after interviewing residents at their homes, they found out that a person was going to various houses and illegally tampering with the meters. In some cases, the power theft had been going on for two years, meaning the customer was charged with stealing thousands of dollars worth of electricity.
"When you notice that your power bill goes from two to three hundred dollars a month to ten dollars a month, they've got to know something's wrong," said Scott Wilder with the Polk Sheriff's Office.
Jean Valcin, who lives on the same street as one of the seven suspects, said it's not surprising that some people took the offer, but that he wouldn't have done the same.
"It's not free. You're not supposed to be doing that," said Valcin.
The seven people arrested include:
- Jorge Coyt, 47, of 35 South 30th St. in Haines City
- Eusebio Maldonado, 39, of 330 Earlene Road in Haines City
- Moises Lopez-Dominguez, 41, of 1760 Adair Road in Davenport
- Salatiel Amado, 40, of 1756 Adair Road in Davenport
- Alberto Torres-Alvares, 55, of 3140 East Hinson Avenue in Haines City
- Nazario Hernandez, 30, of 1241 Snell Creek Road in Davenport
- Gregorio Tinoco, 32, of 553 Sylvan Ramble Road in Davenport
Deputies have an arrest warrant for Roberto Hernandez-Moreno, 38, of Winter Park. Investigators believe he may have committed similar scams involving multiple power companies throughout Central Florida.
Mary Hamman, who lives next door to Jorge Coyt, said she witnessed deputies swarm her neighbor's house.
"The next thing I see they take the meter off. About two or three hours later, they came back and replaced the meter," Hamman said.
Hamman said she was surprised so many people fell for the scam. She said she's told several solicitors not to bother her, and this case would be no different.
"I'm not that dumb," Hamman said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."
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