Ex-JEA worker pleads guilty to stealing from company

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Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Stephen Smith

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A former JEA employee pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of second-degree grand theft for stealing from the utility company.

Stephen Smith, 36, was arrested in July after JEA officials noticed fraudulent activity on numerous accounts.

Between August 2009 and January of this year, Smith manipulated customer account information. He replaced active account holder names with fraudulent names and Social Security numbers. He then registered active accounts to vacant homes.

By changing the name and address on the account, JEA did not have a record of the true account holder and could not collect the payment due.

As part of the scheme, Smith took money from JEA customers with a promise to pay their utility bills. Instead of paying the bills, Smith changed the account name and gave the customer a new account with a zero balance and a high credit rating. Smith then kept the customer's original payment.

At least 34 identities were stolen. Nine of the identities belonged to deceased individuals.

Due to the fraudulent account information, JEA was unable to collect $49,228 in bills.

With Smith's conviction, he will forfeit his pension. Smith's contributions to his pension will be returned to JEA as restitution for the crime.

Smith has no criminal record. As part his plea, he will be sentenced to 13 months in prison and two years of probation. Smith's sentencing is set for Feb. 5.

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