An Orlando woman claims she never got her day in court after the Orlando Utilities Commission demanded $22,000 to keep electric running.
"I couldn't believe what was going on," said Segarra.
Segarra said she had just opened a letter from OUC stating her electric meter had been tampered with for 15 years. Segarra said she was told she had to pay $22,000 immediately to avoid civil theft charges and to keep her power on.
"Who has $22,000 to pay in 30 days when I haven't done anything," said Segarra.
Segarra said her power bills were always low and her home has just one
"I asked them, 'Don't you have any proof who did it"' Because I didn't do anything," said Segarra.
Many consumer groups said tampering regulations favor utilities and customers are found guilty without the right to a defense.
"The issue is there's no access for this customer and no process for this customer to remedy the situation," said Maria McCluskey of Organize Now.
OUC showed Action 9 pictures of a tiny hole in Nelly's meter but didn't want it released to prevent copycats. The utility said it had secretly replaced the suspect meter that proved higher usage and said its $22,000 demand letter is mandatory.
"It's a legal letter required by Florida statutes. That's a first step toward civil litigation," said OUC spokesman Tim Trudell.
But the $22,000 is three times the amount of power OUC claims was stolen, Action 9 learned.
Segarra said she was forced to pay nearly $7,000 just to turn the lights back on but she's still considering a lawyer.
"I would like my money back because I don't think it's fair," she said.
OUC said it has 600 meter tampering cases a year, and very few customers successfully disputed its findings.
The agency said customers can see the evidence and Segarra only had to pay $7,000 to close the case.