City launches probe of false parking tickets

Cars weren't where alleged offenses occurred

October 19, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

Baltimore's inspector general confirmed yesterday that he has launched a probe into allegations that city parking enforcement officers wrote numerous phony tickets to undeserving car owners.

The investigation centers on reports that city residents received citations in the mail for alleged parking offenses on streets where their cars had not been parked. Investigators are looking into the activities of at least two Transportation Department employees whose signatures appear on some of the tickets.

The allegations prompted questions as to whether the officers - formally known as parking control agents - deliberately inflated their ticket counts by issuing and mailing citations for which no infraction occurred. The probe does not cover tickets posted on windshields, since there would be little question of matching the car's location with the address on the ticket.

Hilton Green, the inspector general whose office looks into complaints of fraud, waste and abuse among city employees and agencies, said the investigation "is about individuals who may have received tickets when their car was not physically at that location."

If proven valid, the case will be turned over to the city prosecutor's office, Green said. His office has handled about 10 complaints so far.

The allegations were first reported last week in The Examiner, which found that on a single day in April a parking control agent apparently wrote 10 bogus citations in one neighborhood, five in a matter of minutes. The signature on the tickets was H. West.

In a second instance reported by The Examiner, University of Baltimore law student Ryan McQuighan said he received a citation for parking illegally on Madison Street on a day in March when he - along with his car - was in Calvert County, visiting his parents during spring break. The signature on that ticket was Boyd.

City officials would not identify the employees whose signatures appeared on the tickets.

"Our hope is that it's not widespread, that it doesn't involve a lot of people in parking control," said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

"We take any complaints from citizens about being fraudulently ticketed very seriously," McCarthy said, noting the 15 or so calls the mayor's office has received in recent days. "Our internal investigations have proven that there does appear to be some ticketing that has taken place where there is in fact no violation."

McCarthy and Green stressed that the controversy should not be seen by Baltimore drivers as a way to get out of paying tickets issued legitimately.

"Everybody believes they got a bum rap," McCarthy said. "These cases apply only to tickets in the mail. We're getting calls from people who are probably not in the same category."

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