City says man got free water for 25 years

New London - For 25 years, the former head of Waterford's Board of Fire Commissioners and the owner of a Quaker Hill diner received New London water at his residence for free, avoiding thousands of dollars in connection and usage fees.

Based on a tip several weeks ago, New London water officials discovered that a water pipe was hooked up illegally to property at 9 Scotch Cap Road owned by Melvin E. Carson. A water meter never was installed.

"It's not normal we would run across something like this,'' said Joseph Lanzafame, director of New London's Public Utilities Department. "It's an oddity."

The owner was given notice and the water was shut off, Lanzafame said. He said there is no record of any connection ever having been made at that address. He doesn't know the details of how the hook-up occurred.

"It was 25 years ago and way before my time,'' he said. "We're not sure if it was done intentionally or not intentionally."

The family thought the property was on well water, he said.

Carson, who suffered a stroke last year, could not be reached to comment. His son did not respond to a telephone call from The Day.

Lanzafame said the family is cooperating and has already paid more than $3,400 in connection fees. The utility is calculating what the family owes in past usage fees but has not yet submitted a bill.

Based on current rates - the annual water bill for a family of four is about $250 a year - Carson would owe the city about $6,000.

Mike Schildt, who is getting a divorce from Carson's daughter, reported the alleged theft to the utilities department. He deferred comment to his attorney, who did not respond to a telephone call on Wednesday.

"When it came to our attention, we responded immediately and firmly,'' said Barry Weiner, chairman of the New London Water & Water Pollution Control Authority. "We're doing everything we can to maintain the integrity of system."

The past due bill is to be paid in full, Weiner said, or the authority will take legal action. It is an ongoing investigation, he said, and options could include criminal charges.

"They are complying with the rules and regulations right now," he said.

Carson was chairman of the Waterford Board of Fire Commissioners for 14 years, until 2004, when he was not reappointed. He also owns Mel's Place on Old Colchester Road in Quaker Hill.

Weiner would not say how Carson hooked up to the line but said it can be done. He would not elaborate, he said, because he does not want to tell people how to do it.

There have been cases in the past of people using municipal water without paying for it, he said. In each case, an agreement was reached for the utility to be paid back.

"We do as much monitoring as we can,'' he said of the roughly 14,000 customers in New London and parts of Waterford and East Lyme. "This wasn't the first such situation we found out about. And when we do find out, we take swift and stern measures."

Lanzafame said that while each alleged theft of services is unique, it's usually someone who has had their water shut off and then found "a creative way" to reconnect to the system.

It's rare, he said, to have a connection made and to have no record of it.

"We're working to remedy the situation,'' he said.

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