(WSVN) - An Opa-locka water meter reader claims in a lawsuit the city is charging customers water rates that are too high. In tonight’s 7 Investigates, that meter reader is speaking exclusively to the Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek.
Being a city employee for more than 10 years, servicing the community is something that would usually make someone proud.
Meter reader: “I work for the city of Opa-locka. I’m a meter reader.”
But this man asked us to hide his identity because he is afraid of retaliation from city residents.
Meter reader: “We go to their houses. When you go there, even they cuss us out.”
In July, a 7News investigation revealed how many Opa-locka residents have been hit with massive water bills.
Vasti saw her monthly water bill shoot up from around $50 to more than $1,700 twice last year.
Vasti Pinales, resident: “I know I did not use that. I wouldn’t mind paying for something I that I know I used.”
Kevin Ozebek: “Can you explain why there are many customers in Opa-locka like her who have these very bizarre bills?”
Meter Reader: “Because they inflate the number. They manipulate the bills, and they have been doing that for a long time.”
The meter reader hired attorney Michael Pizzi, who has filed a class action lawsuit against the city on behalf of all water customers.
The two have now filed this whistle blower lawsuit, claiming Opa-locka staff altered meter readings to intentionally overbill water customers in order to make more revenue.
And when the meter reader complained to his supervisors, he was threatened with termination, denied raises and ostracized because of his refusal to go along with the city’s corrupt water billing practices.
Michael Pizzi, attorney: “The city knew that the meters weren’t working. The city knew that the numbers coming off the meters were not accurate, and the city lied to the residents and intentionally inflated their water bills and stole their money.”
Most of the meters here in Opa-locka have now been replaced by Miami-Dade County. That’s because the county is taking over meter reading and water billing in the city, but before the county stepped in, the meter reader says about a third of the meters he would check did not work.
Kevin Ozebek: “Were there customers in Opa-locka getting bills from meters that you were reporting as broken?”
Meter Reader: “Yes. Yes, they get their bills from the meter that is not working, the meter that is broken.”
So far, the city’s public works director remains silent to 7News and is not explaining why people like Vasti are drowning in water bills or responding to these new accusations from the meter reader.
Meter Reader: “I just want to tell the truth. I don’t care. If they fire me, I’ll go.”
But he won’t go without a fight. In his lawsuit, he is seeking more than $4,000,000 in damages from the city.
Miami-Dade County’s Water and Sewer Department told 7News it is nearly done taking over meter reading and water billing.
There are about 200 accounts that still need to be transferred from the city to the county, but the county said if you have any outstanding water bills with Opa-locka, you’ll still need to take that up with the city.
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