?Ticket swapping? blamed for Baltimore city parking woes

Local,Stephen Janis
Baltimore City Inspector General Hilton Green calls it “ticket swapping.”

An errant driver takes a legitimate ticket off his or her car, and places it in on the windshield of an unsuspecting motorist.

The trick, which Green discovered in his investigation into city parking ticket fraud, was brought to his attention by a phone call from an unnamed state delegate.

“He accused the agent of making a mistake, and I said I would look into it,” Green said.

But Green learned the ticketed driver attempted to foist his own misdeeds upon the delegate.

“What we discovered was the ticket was legitimate it simply belonged to someone else,” Green said. “People do all sorts of things to get out of paying a ticket.” 

After a quick investigation, his office located the person who actually received the citation.

“At first he denied that it was his,” Green said. “But I believe his parents told him you don’t lie to the inspector general, so he came back in tears and admitted that he put the ticket on someone else’s car.”

The motorist paid the fine and apologized, but if the delegate had paid the ticket, the “ticket swap” would have constituted fraud, Green said.

Ticket swapping is one of several scams Green has unraveled during his nine-month investigation into ticket fraud. The investigation was triggered by a series of articles in The Examiner last year depicting the stories of motorists victimized by unwarranted tickets. The series prompted Mayor Sheila Dixon to ask Green to investigate the city’s parking enforcement agency and led to the suspension without pay of at least one agent.

Green, who was on medical leave for almost five months due to complications from a quadruple bypass operation, has added one person from the city’s parking enforcement division to help two staff investigators wade through a series of new complaints from people across the country over unwarranted tickets.

“Input errors are the biggest problem” Green said. “If the ticket is not input correctly into the PDAs, we find that tickets get issued in error,” Green said, referring to electronic ticketing devices issued to agents last July. Green also said vanity license plates are likely to generate erroneous tickets.

If the correct state code is not entered by the ticket writer, Green said, then a person with the same vanity plates in a different state can end up with ticket, even though they’ve never visited Baltimore.

“I had a women call me from Harlem, New York, whose license plate said Harlem,” Green said.

“The ticket writer did not put in the proper code for the state and so she got the ticket even though she said she have never driven to Baltimore,” Green said.

“We also had a man call from Texas with a similar problem, he told me, ‘I’ve never been to Baltimore. I don’t know why I go this ticket,’ but we cleared that up too,” Green said.

Green said at least one case  involving a parking agent will most likely be sent to city prosecutors.

Green suspended the agent without pay in November 2007.  City officials  identified the agent as H. West,  who was initially named in several Examiner stories published last year. “It appears those tickets were issued to people who were not where the ticket alleges,” Green said.

City officials credit Green for reducing the number of complaints.

“I can only go by what I observe, ever since Ken Unitas took over parking enforcement, things have really improved,” said City Councilman Robert Curran, noting that Unitas replaced former safety chief Ken Strong in February 2008.

“In the past, I’ve heard from people in my district about ticket problems but since they’ve addressed the problem nothing new has come to my attention.

T.J. Bathras, deputy safety chief who runs the city’s parking enforcement division, said better technology has streamlined the ticketing process and eliminated errors.

At least one motorist battling an unwarranted ticket said Green cleared up his parking troubles.

Michael Yoder was ticketed for allegedly illegally parking on West Garrison Street in February, but was  vacationing in Florida the day the ticket was issued.

“I first had to look up where that was since I’ve never been on West Garrison Street, but the biggest issue is that I was in Florida for my birthday, which happens to be February 7th, the day the ticket was issued,” said Yoder, who lives in Baltimore City. But a call to Green’s office apparently did the trick.

“I was also able to renew my tag for that car in June with no problems, so I can only assume that it was corrected,” Yoder said.

For more on Baltimore City's history of parking ticket problems, see the following stories:
Inspector general's absence stalls Baltimore parking probe
State reviews bogus ticket claims
Officials:  Accused bogus ticket writer still employed by city
Bogus parking tickets anger residents
Ticket agent assaulted in parking dispute
Editorial: inconvenience fees
Baltimore City Council member's abated traffic ticket now in court system
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