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FOX43 Finds Out: Catching toll cheats

HARRISBURG, Pa -- Plenty of drivers go through a Pennsylvania Turnpike Toll Plaza everyday.

The Turnpike Commission says most of those drivers pay a toll.
For those who don't - watch out.

"We want the message to get out that you can't just blow through an easy pass lane and think you're going to get away with, because you're not," said Carl DeFebo, a spokesperson for the PA Turnpike Commission.

Act 165 now allows the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to go after toll cheats.

It went into effect last August and means Turnpike can work with PennDOT to put a lien against the registration of a vehicle.

That happens when a driver either has 6 toll violations or has racked up more than $500 in turnpike fines.

"We're not talking about people that do it 2 or 3 times, we're talking hundreds, even thousands of times. At that point, enough is enough.">

If those violators don't pay the Turnpike's Chief Compliance officer, Ray Morrow, steps in.

The toll cheats can face felony theft charges  or pay a fine.

"To date, we have already brought in about $170,000," said Marrow.

So far, PennDOT has suspended more than 80 vehicle registrations.

Defebo says that number will likely grow.

"We started at the very upper level when it comes to the dollar amount and number of violations, and as we work our way down we're going to be imapcting a larger number of people."

Part of Act 165 also allows the turnpike to go after toll cheats in other states.

Defebo says, "The turnpike has sent toll bills and toll violations to every state in the US including Alaska and Hawaii."

Those other states need to set up a reciprocal agreement in order for the Pennsylvania Turnpike it get its money back easily.

That hasn't happened yet.

Some of those out-of-state companies are the biggest toll violators on the PA turnpike.

The Turnpike released this back in October of 2016, listing 24 companies with hundreds of violations.

We wanted to know if Act 165 has made it easier to go after these companies and for the turnpike to the money it's owed.

FOX43 has filed 29 right to know request with the Turnpike Commission over the past year to see how much money it has made back.

All of those requests were denied.

The commission did send us a list, stating if companies have settled or if the turnpike hasn't been able to track them down.

Two companies FOX43 visited when the list came out have reached a settlement with the turnpike.

Green Coast logistics in New Jersey, which owed more than $600,000, has set up a payment plan.

Salson Dedicated, also in New Jersey, has set up a payment plan too - owing more than $55,000 to the turnpike.

Remember though, Pennsylvania still does not have a reciprocal agreement - which makes it harder for the turnpike to try to get that money.

With some companies and individual drivers *not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in tolls, does it mean tolls rates will continue to rise?

"I think it's safe to say that there is a small percentage of your toll that is funding those who cheat the system," said Defebo.

Which is why then turnpike plans to continue to go after the tool cheats.

Morrow said, "If you go into Giant and just fill up your shopping cart and walk out, you can't do that. They offers products, we offer a service and you have to pay for that service."

The turnpike spokesperson says the commission is close to having a reciprocal agreement with Delaware  because that state has penalties similar to Pennsylvania's.

The spokesperson expects that agreement to be finalized by the end of the year.

If you have a story you want Jackie to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send Jackie a message on Facebook or shoot her an email at FOX43FindsOut@fox43.com.