By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – The E-470 Public Highway Authority has admitted it incorrectly billed a Littleton woman for toll charges she never incurred, then continued to press her for payment even after she presented evidence suggesting the toll charges were erroneous.
“It was not handled as best as it could be and we are very much aware of that,” said Jessica Carson, a spokesperson for the toll authority. She said the agency concluded it was wrong after a CBS4 Investigation took up the case of Michelle Tolle.
Some time in December, someone stole the rear license plate off her 1998 Chevy Tahoe, but she was not immediately aware of the theft.
She only became aware of the stolen plate when she received a photo red light ticket from the City of Denver and toll charges from E-470.
“I was like ‘Those are not mine,’” Tolle told CBS4. The Denver red light ticket contained a photo showing her license plate on the back of a Yukon, and the driver in the red light photo is African American. “Never seen him before,” Tolle said of the driver.
She immediately contacted Denver’s photo enforcement unit about the $75 citation she received on her license plate.
Ted Porras, a supervisor with the Denver photo enforcement unit, said an employee quickly checked and saw the same discrepancies and dismissed the ticket.
“We verified she wasn’t the driver so we cancelled the citation. The owner of the vehicle was a Caucasian woman, and the driver was an African American male. Definitely not the registered owner of the vehicle,” Porras said.
Tolle filed a police report with Littleton Police Department on the stolen plate and contacted the 470 Authority about the $14.20 in tolls that had accrued on the stolen license plate. However employees there told her “tough luck.”
She said employees told her “We can’t dismiss the charges. They are yours.” Tolle continued, “And I thought, this isn’t right.”
She called back again and spoke to a supervisor and emailed a copy of her police report, but got the same story. She said she was told there was no way the charges could be dismissed because 470 policy states only charges would be dropped which occurred after a police report was filed, but not charges which happened before a police report was filed.
She said a supervisor told her there was no way to dismiss the charges, and if she chose to fight there would be additional fees and “You’ll go to court and you’ll lose.”
She asked CBS4 to look into it. The CBS4 Investigation found that E-470 personnel had never bothered to check their own records. If they had, they would have found a photo of the same Yukon, going through one of their toll plazas, with Miki’s license plate on the back, visual proof that the plate was on someone else’s vehicle and that the toll charges were erroneous.
“It was a new customer service representative,” said Jessica Carson, a spokeswoman for the E-470 Public Highway Authority. “We are using this to help with training in the future.”
She said when a supervisor got involved, “research is done and should have been done in this instance.” It was not. “With additional research, we reversed all those tolls.”
Following the CBS4 Investigation, an executive with 470 called Tolle and apologized. They said this never should have happened and offered to not only to refund her money, but offered an additional $35 in toll credits.
Tolle said it was never about the money, but about the principal.
“That’s all I ever wanted in the first place is to have them do the right thing.”
CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.