WSVN — For five years they paid their electric bill on time. Then they noticed a cracked meter and called FPL. The result? They were accused of meter tampering even though they swear they had nothing to do with it. So do they have to pay thousands of dollars? It’s why they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When we went to talk to the Mastarreno’s, they were living like a hurricane had blown thru.

Danny Mastarreno: “In order for us to take normal showers, we boil the water here.”

Since December, Danny, his mother and father and brothers had been living without electricity. Cooking on a barbeque grill, running a generator at night for lights, after FPL cut off their power.

Danny Mastarreno: “This is where they say there was tampering.”

The problem began in March of 2014 when Danny says they noticed a crack in their meter.

Danny Mastarreno: “We immediately contacted FPL.”

Over the next few months, FPL investigated. In letters from the power company and the Florida Public Service Commission, the utility says they found the Mastarenno’s meter was missing an outer seal and had blade damage.

Translation: meter tampering.

Veronica Mastarreno: “No. Never!”

Also, FPL says when they removed the meter, a floodlight attached to the house remained on, indicating an unauthorized tap providing “Unmetered electric service to your residence.”

Danny Mastarreno: “Their assumption but they have no proof.”

Danny can say that because the family hired an electrician to find the unauthorized tap from the underground line. After digging it up, the electrician wrote, “I returned to see the possible tap in the power cables and did not find any.”

The electricians letter was sent to FPL but nothing changed.

Veronica Mastarreno: “I very angry.”

The Mastarreno’s have lived here since 1999. FPL wrote that their investigation showed the families power bill dropped in half beginning in December 2009 to about $100 a month and FPL wanted to be paid for that electricity.

Veronica Mastarreno: “The bill what I need to pay is near $6,000.”

$5,859 to be exact, but their electrician says the line was not tapped and FPL won’t let them see the meter they say was tampered with.

Danny Mastarreno: “It’s like putting a person in prison and he is innocent and you can’t put a person in jail till proven guilty.”

FPL says someone tampered with their equipment. Danny says we didn’t do it. Maybe your meter was faulty.

Danny Mastarreno: “Possibly. It can be a malfunction but they didn’t provide us with any documentation or anything.”

But no matter what caused the lower bills, FPL wants their money. Legally Howard, does FPL have to prove you tampered with the meter?

Howard Finkelstein: “No they don’t. Whether you tampered with their equipment, someone else did or their meter was faulty, you got electricity you didn’t pay for. The law calls it unjust enrichment and no matter who is at fault, if you receive the electricity, you have to pay for it.”

We talked to FPL. A spokesman told us told us they could not provide evidence to show how the meter was tampered with and could not discuss the specifics of the case but the Florida Public Service Commission did investigate and FPL pointed out that the PSC did rule in FPL’s favor, agreeing that tampering took place at the residence.

But also in that report, the Public Service Commission pointed out a mistake in FPL’s calculations. Instead of the $5,859, the family now owes $4,829. The Mastarrenos and FPL then came to a confidential agreement to settle this dispute, which stops the family from talking to Help Me Howard about it.

But according to the Public Service Commission, the Mastarrenos will pay $500 down, their electricity will be turned back on and they will then pay an extra $88 a month over the next four years to cover the money owed to the power company.

The Mastarrenos promised FPL they wouldn’t discuss the settlement but with their power back on, we can guess they are feeling a little better in their home.

Patrick Fraser: “When the Mastarreno’s could talk to us, they were frustrated that FPL and the Public Service Commission didn’t believe them but give FPL some credit. They could have gone back five years for back payments, they only went back three. They could’ve required the full amount before turning the power back on, but they gave them a payment plan instead.”

Feeling powerless battling your problem? Wanna get charged up? Contact us. We might be in the dark, but sometimes we can flip a switch and the light will come on.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser 7News.


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