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Pennsylvania’s worst turnpike toll evader to pay up

The Turnpike Commission is cracking down on toll violators by taking them to court.

A lot of toll violations occur at the Bensalem exchange in Bucks County.
A lot of toll violations occur at the Bensalem exchange in Bucks County.Read more

Pennsylvania’s most egregious toll evader now has a criminal record and a long road ahead to pay off his debt to the Turnpike Commission.

He and two others whose Bucks County cases were resolved this week are the latest examples of the Turnpike Commission’s aggressive new approach to pursuing toll scofflaws.

“The thing that we’re after is getting our money back,” said Ray Morrow, the commission’s chief compliance officer.

Jarrett Stiff, 36, of Trevose, didn’t pay for trips on the Pennsylvania Turnpike 2,264 times between 2012 and 2017, more than anyone else in the state, according to turnpike records. He accumulated $127,967.40 in unpaid tolls and subsequent fines.

He pleaded guilty to theft of services and, as part of his agreement at his sentencing in April, was ordered to pay $11,504. He made a down payment of $3,500 and entered a three-year repayment plan of $275 a month. He was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Stiff was not represented by a lawyer and could not be reached for comment.

Kelly Robinson, 33, of Lansdale, was sentenced to theft of services for failing to pay tolls 840 times, a total of $66,552.45 in fees and fines. She was ordered to serve five years’ probation and pay $7,387.90.

A third person, Ayelet Farage, 48, of Elkins Park, paid the full amount she owed, $17,000, and was sentenced to unsupervised probation for a year. She entered a diversionary program that would allow her to have her record expunged after serving 52 hours of community service. She failed to pay tolls 822 times.

Neither Robinson’s nor Farage’s lawyer returned calls for comment.

None of the three was a professional driver, officials said.

>>READ MORE: Reckoning could be coming for PA’s toll deadbeats

Robinson’s violations happened most often at the Quakertown interchange. Stiff and Farage incurred the majority of their violations at the turnpike’s Bensalem interchange, officials said.

“It does seem like we have some of the largest violators and greatest number of violators,” said Jovin Jose, the Bucks County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the cases, “probably partly because of the high volume of traffic that goes through the Bensalem interchange.”

The Neshaminy Falls interchange had more toll violations than anywhere else, according to 2016 data, the most current the Turnpike Commission made available, followed by the Mid County, Valley Forge, and Bensalem interchanges. Statewide, Montgomery County reported the most violations, with 60,687, in fiscal year 2017, the most current data available. Bucks County was second with 44,080.

The Turnpike Commission began pursuing felony charges against toll evaders who owed $2,000 or more as part of a more focused effort to recoup the significant agency losses from unpaid tolls every year. A 2016 report found that the commission was owed $33.5 million in unpaid E-ZPass tolls. Much of that would eventually be paid through notices mailed to drivers or collection agencies, a turnpike spokesperson said then, but the agency expected to be owed about $3.5 million of that by the end of that year. In 2017, the commission wrote off $7,618,662 in unpaid tolls.

>>READ MORE: Pa. auditor general: Legislature should end or cut $450 million Turnpike Commission transit payment to PennDot

State legislation passed in 2016, though, allowed for automatic suspension of drivers’ registrations for anyone who had six unpaid violations or owed $500. The commission also pursues cases through civil court if the violations involve trucking companies’ accounts.

Meanwhile, the commission gathered data from all its interchanges to identify drivers with the largest balance of unpaid tolls. Since December 2017, 526 people have been charged. Of those, 214 cases remain open.

“Individuals are committing this offense thinking there are no repercussions for it,” Jose said. “There are hardworking taxpayers who pay their fair share. Individuals should be held accountable.”