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Bucks, Montgomery counties are ground zero for turnpike toll-dodgers

Written by Laura Benshoff/WHYY | Jun 13, 2019 8:01 AM
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Trucks and cars move through a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll plaza without stopping to pay in Carlisle. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Five people have been charged with felony theft in Bucks County for skipping out on Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls hundreds of times.

Jonathan Quinty, 37, of East Greenville, Montgomery County; Rachel Andershonis, 26, of Bensalem; Robert Mansfield, 48, of Philadelphia; Antonio Green Jr., 31; and Thomas Macrina, 40, of Warminster all face criminal prosecution after allegedly racking up a combined 1,700 free rides.

None could be reached for comment.

Their cases are part of an initiative by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to go after the most "egregious offenders," which kicked off in 2017.

That's when the commission got new powers, as a result of Act 165, allowing it to take away the vehicle registrations of repeat toll dodgers, and the commission also began pursuing criminal charges against drivers who failed to pay at least $2,000, usually over the course of several years.

The program has collected over $552,000 and filed 50 criminal complaints across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Chief Compliance Officer Ray Morrow. Eleven of those cases were filed in Bucks County.

"The highest areas where we have the most violators are Montgomery County and Bucks County by far," Morrow said.

Between these two densely populated areas, violations account for almost $1.9 million in unpaid tolls since the Commission began investigating the offenses a couple of years ago, he said.

Before criminal charges are filed, violators have many opportunities to pay back what they owe.

For each unpaid toll -- usually when someone exits the highway through an E-ZPass lane without paying -- the driver receives two letters. Following six violations, the commission can suspend the vehicle's registration. After dozens or hundreds of violations, the state agency begins an investigation and tries to reach the driver to enter a payment plan, Morrow said.

The crackdown is about "fairness," and recouping what's lost, according to Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mark Compton.

"Customers who do the right thing and pay their tolls should not be expected to cover for others who refuse to pay their fair share," he said in April.

Only when less punitive steps are exhausted does driving and dashing become a crime.

Assistant District Attorney Brittney Kern, who is overseeing the prosecutions in Bucks County, said her office is treating these alleged thefts like any other crime.

"It's definitely about giving the turnpike the money it needs ... and it's also about accountability, just like it would be for any criminal defendant," Kern said.

Theft of services amounting to more than $2,000 is a third-degree felony under Pennsylvania's criminal code.

The five defendants in Bucks County owe more than $66,000 in unpaid tolls and fees, but that number is based on the policy of charging scofflaws the full fee from the start of the turnpike to their exit for unpaid tolls, even for a journey of a few miles.

With more information about their actual routes, the amount they allegedly owe is likely to be downgraded, according to Morrow.

 

 

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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