Bamboozled: One problem generates another

BB brandingKyle Alfano was excited to move into his townhouse rental in Howell in November 2013.

The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath would be perfect for him, his fiance Katherine Aponte and her 8-year-old autistic son.

Alfano called JCP&L to change the electric service to his name, but JCP&L said it was a no-go.

“They were not able to do it because there was an active account. The previous tenant moved out but never closed the account,” said Alfano, 21. “They said that I had to wait 90 days until the previous tenant’s bill went into collections and a notice would be posted on the door.” So Alfano waited.

Alfano, a volunteer firefighter, said he called over the next several months, but the previous tenant’s account was still active.

So he waited some more.

32414Then on March 6, Alfano came home to find half the home had no power. He thought there was an outage in the area, so he called JCP&L.

“They said, ‘No, we shut off the power,'” Alfano said. “They said they wouldn’t turn it back on until I paid the $2,500 bill from the previous tenant. Twenty minutes later they sent someone to shut off power to the rest of the house.”

With no power, the home had no heat. The temperature in Howell dropped to 18 degrees overnight.

Alfano said from that point on, he’d call the utility three times a day, every day, and he was always told the same thing: that he had to pay the $2,500 from the previous tenant.

Then it got complicated.

Kyle Alfano and Katherine Aponte stand at a wall of photos that include Aponte’s son, who needs power for nebulizer treatments.

He finally learned why JCP&L was insisting he pay a bill he said didn’t belong to him. The utility said it believed his fiance Katherine Aponte was the previous tenant who owed all that money, Alfano said.

“They think I’m harboring the previous tenant,” Alfano said. “She has the same first name as the previous tenant, but I don’t know the other tenant. They’re different people.”

He said the landlord had told him the other Katherine, who was initially from Colorado, moved to Virginia Beach when she left New Jersey, but he didn’t know anything more about her.

Alfano said he was unable to convince JCP&L, so he contacted the state Board of Public Utilities, which started to look at the case. He said he was always willing to pay the $800 of his own usage since November, but not for the usage of the previous tenant.

But still, Alfano had no power. Not only was it cold, but the lack of power caused another problem. Aponte’s child needs to use a nebulizer for asthma, and the nebulizer runs off power.

No power, no treatment.

As a back-up, Alfano has a generator, which he’d use sporadically, he said. Neighbors would sometimes complain about the noise, but Alfano said there were times when he had no choice but to run it.

On March 17, it was 42 degrees in the home at 5:45 p.m., so Alfano turned on the generator.

Sometime after midnight, police knocked on his door. Even though he explained the power fiasco and his reason for running the generator, Alfano said the officer still gave him a ticket for a noise ordinance violation.

“I received a ticket for trying to keep my family warm,” he said.

Alfano said he’d had enough, and he contacted Bamboozled.


We reviewed Alfano’s timeline of events, and we reached out to JCP&L.

While it reviewed the case, we looked at identities of the two Katherines.

Public records didn’t show any definitive identification for the Katherine who used to live there, but the landlord said the two women were absolutely not the same person.

The landlord described the previous tenant as about 5’8″, with long blond hair and skinny, and in her mid- to late-30s, with four kids ranging in age from 11 to 2.

Katherine Aponte, Alfano’s fiance, is 5’4″ with brown hair, and 29 years old. She has one child.

The landlord also said her previous tenant left unpaid bills with other utilities.

“That created a mess because you can’t legally disconnect someone’s utilities,” the landlord said. “JCP&L was convinced Kyle was trying to run a scam, but the two Katherines have different Social Security numbers, and they should be able to see that.”

Later that day, Alfano said BPU requested he give JCP&L a signed and notarized copy of the lease. Katherine Aponte also had to present several forms of identification and a letter from her parents to confirm her identity.

“Her passport, her cosmetology license, her EMT certification, her county identification,” Alfano said. “They seemed satisfied with that.”

But JCP&L’s issue went beyond the double Katherine one.

When Katherine Aponte was previously married, the rental where she lived was in her ex-husband’s name, as were the utilities, Alfano said.

And Alfano said JCP&L told him there were $2,500 in charges that were never paid from an address where Aponte lived.

“She has no recollection of it,” Alfano said. “It was from 2009 — that was five years ago — and nothing shows up on her credit report. JCP&L is refusing to show her the bills or any kind of documentation.”

Then, BPU brokered an agreement and told JCP&L to restore the power, Alfano said.

As part of the agreement, Alfano wouldn’t have to pay the previous tenant’s $2,500, but he would have to pay the charges that accrued since November, Alfano said.

The power was to be restored within 12 hours, and it was back on by 7 p.m. that night, Alfano said.

We asked JCP&L about its decision.

“JCP&L takes great efforts to prevent the circumvention of debts and fraudulent activity,” spokesman Ron Morano said. “JCP&L conducted an investigation into this matter and its findings do not support what has been portrayed by the customer. However, the company continued to work with the customer and believes the issue has been resolved.”

We reached out to BPU to discuss the case.

Although it wouldn’t talk about details for privacy reasons, it said JCP&L didn’t have the same version of events that Alfano presented to Bamboozled.

Still, it instructed the utility to turn the power back on, we think, because of the rules JCP&L must follow.

In the JCP&L Tariff, section 2.04, it says: “The Company, after proper notice, may refuse to initiate Service or may discontinue Service to an Applicant, or to a Customer who is a member of a household or is a business associate of a former Customer then indebted to the Company for Services provided by the Company at any location, if the Company has reason to believe that substantially the same household or business will or does occupy the premises to be or being served and that the purpose of the present or earlier application is or was to circumvent payment of such indebtedness.”

It continues: “However, if the household or business associate is not the same, the Company can only transfer the outstanding balance of amounts owed to the Company for Services provided by the Company to the former Customer of record for Service rendered at the prior location.”

We don’t have the details of Katherine Aponte’s previous living arrangements, and of course JCP&L should pursue deadbeat debts. But the question is: if a person lives in a home but is not named on the bill, should he or she be held responsible for the charges? And should that person, or someone else that person may live with, be unable to get service in the future because of those debts?

According to the tariff, the answer appears to be no. Even if Aponte was trying to skip out on an old bill — something that was never proven — Alfano can’t be denied service as long as he wasn’t part of the original household for which bills are in question.

Further, if two people lived in a household and they simply tried to change names on an account to avoid a bill, that would be outright fraud.

We’re grateful for BPU’s decision so this home has power again. And we’re also grateful for JCP&L’s investigation. When it comes to fraud, eventually, we all pay the price.