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Could City Corruption Be Exposed by Your Water Bill?

October 17, 2016
Colson Hicks Eidson

It took two years to happen, but it shouldn’t have happened at all. A Florida city, strapped for cash, almost completely cleared out an account earmarked to pay local citizens. How did this happen, and why are we only just now finding out about it?

Could Your Water Bill Expose City Corruption?

Opa-Locka may seem like any other Florida city, but hidden behind the normalcy were secrets and lies. You see, the city was in massive, multi-million-dollar debt, and because several state programs required the city to have a balanced budget, officials were facing the possibility that several city projects could get shutdown. That’s when city officials got desperate, and what they did next might be one of the most brazen breaches of the public trust ever seen in Florida.

The Opa-Locka city finance director was ordered to take money from the security deposits of Opa-Locka water customers. However, Florida law says that these deposits must be refunded to Florida water customers if they pay their water bills on time for two years. That means the money in those accounts actually belonged to the thousands of people in Opa-Locka who were paying their water bills!

How Much Was Stolen?

The total amount of money stolen from the citizens of Opa-Locka is estimated to be around $1.7 million, but nobody is exactly sure on that amount. You see, the money was taken out in smaller chunks—the largest of which was just over $800,000—but bank records only account for $1.25 million dollars, which doesn’t account for all the missing money. Furthermore, investigators are trying to figure out how this fraud went undetected, considering that Opa-Locka has a yearly independent audit.

The financial crisis in Opa-Locka was exposed by citizens and a Miami Herald investigation, but would it surprise you to learn that Opa-Locka isn’t the only Florida city dealing with waterworks shenanigans? Right now, the attorneys at Colson Hicks Eidson are working on a class action lawsuit against the city of Sunrise. In our case, city officials allegedly increased water distribution and sewage collection rates by 40 percent! But how could any city justify a rate increase of that magnitude? Well, we intend to find out.

More of these waterworks cases could pop up in our state, and if they do you need to be informed. So stick with our Florida class action lawyers to learn more about what you can do, and don’t forget to log onto our Facebook and Twitter to share your thoughts on kicking corruption out of our communities.