Whistleblower 9: Residents fooled by man promising to pay half of utility bills

by: Scott Wickersham Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Some people in Charlotte said they lost thousands of dollars when a man promised to pay half of their utility bills.

They said he claimed to be working with Carolina Panthers football players who wanted to help people in tough times.

Hillary Rivers heard about the deal from relatives.

"All you have to have is your bill. Half the total amount due and it's taken care of, zero balance," said Rivers.

She said she gave a man named Steve Kells $180 for her power and water bill on Oct. 5. Three days later she got a letter from Duke Energy telling her that the payoff was no good.

Rivers' water was shut off because of the lapse in payment.

Rivers isn't the only victim. On Wednesday at CMPD  headquarters,  Eyewitness News found five police reports from people who said the same thing happened to them and they lost a total of $2,500.

A person who lives near the Plaza in east Charlotte, one who lives off Statesville Road in north Charlotte and three from the Executive Center Business Park on Albemarle Road have all filed complaints with police.

Victims said Kells had an office. When Eyewitness News went there Wednesday, we only found a locked conference room. Victims also gave several phone numbers that were all dead ends.

The Carolina Panthers told Channel 9 that they are not involved, but were aware of the case and are cooperating with authorities in the investigation.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities sent out a warning saying 16 of their customers have been taken by the same story -- a warning that came too late for Rivers.

"I need it back to keep my water on and my lights on," said Rivers.

One victim gave Eyewitness News four phone numbers that they had for Kells. Eyewitness News called them all and found that two were disconnected; one was for an upholstery business and left a voicemail on the last one.

Several victims also told Eyewitness News they think the man is well known in Charlotte and is still approaching people with the same offer to pay their bills.