As if Philadelphia's famed parking wars were short on costly aggravation, New York City's enforcers have lumbered into the fray with their hands out.
In a move that eliminates an unwritten, if illegal, perk of driving into the Big Apple from a Pennsylvania home, New York's Finance Department has ended a years-long practice of not going after Pennsylvanians for unpaid parking tickets.
The news arrived last week with the thud of a thick envelope, heavy with dozens of copies of records, on the kitchen table of Noberto Vargas' apartment in North Philadelphia's Yorktown community.
New York wants $5,655 by Oct. 19 for a blizzard of parking tickets over the last year - earned, Vargas said, by his brother, who lives in the Bronx and borrowed his car.
"He's got to be straight," Vargas said after an irate, extended phone call to his brother. "I didn't know he was doing this."
Despite the torrent of parking citations against his car, New York didn't know who Noberto Vargas was until last month.
For at least three years, New York had balked at paying a $5-per-request records fee for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to track down Keystone State scofflaws, even though millions of dollars in fines went unpaid each year.
New York has long obtained information about New Jersey.
Philadelphia officials could not provide current numbers, but a New York State study found that Pennsylvanians racked up $14.3 million in unpaid New York City parking tickets in 2005 alone. According to the study, 52 percent of those 295,963 parking tickets were ignored at least to the next February.
Then last month, with the stealth of a meter reader, New York's Finance Department bought public records from a national clearinghouse for thousands of out-of-staters who have unpaid, recent New York tickets. The records include Pennsylvanians.
New York paid the contractor, Law Enforcement Systems of Long Island City, N.Y., $3 each for the addresses and names that go with Pennsylvania-registered vehicles with unpaid citations.
The city has been mailing bills to scofflaws in 12 states for which it obtained records, a Finance Department spokesman said. New York expects offenders in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the two closest states, to send in about $5 million together in response.
And if drivers don't pay? A visitor's next day trip to New York could involve a trip to the impounded-car yard. Legally, the city cannot take an enforcement action such as towing without first sending a bill.
New York officials would not say how many Pennsylvanians are being dunned by mail. The bills are going out "back as far as a year," said Sam Miller, assistant commissioner for communications and government affairs.
On the city's list of its top 10 Pennsylvania debtors, four are Philadelphians, including Vargas, who ranks third.
The leader is Markquise Nixon, who New York contends ran up $8,015 in unpaid parking fines.
No Markquise Nixon could be found in public records for the Sanger Street address listed. The only Markquise Nixon in Philadelphia public records has been in state custody since December on a drug conviction.
Like Vargas, Nixon's mother, Linda, said she was unaware that a mountain of unpaid fines had been accruing to a car registered under her son's name.
"Maybe somebody was using his name," she said. "He never lived in New York like that, and I know he wasn't driving to New York every week."
She added that her son was frequently ticketed in Philadelphia and was on a payment plan with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. A PPA spokeswoman said citations in Philadelphia are not public records.
The PPA has had no such problems collecting from New Yorkers parking illegally in Philly. In 2008, Philadelphia collected $1,128,669 of the $1,449,287 owed for the 27,099 parking tickets written for New York cars - and paid $7 to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles for each record it searched.
Pennsylvania's Top Scofflaws
Name Hometown Amount Owed
Markquise Nixon Philadelphia $8,015
Edgar Patino Philadelphia 5,965
Noberto Vargas Philadelphia 5,655
Jorge Diaz Lancaster 3,830
Lynn M. Montgomery Tobyhanna 3,740
Cynthia Chohan Allentown 3,355
Curtis Bennett Philadelphia 3,209
Maria L. Santiago Allentown 3,085
Leonard C. Pittman East Stroudsburg 3,085
Carlos Llambelis Allentown 2,916
SOURCE: New York City Finance Department