D.C. withholds more than $10K in refunds for bad tickets

WASHINGTON — The District owes more than $10,000 in ticket refunds from the past five years, according to documents obtained by ABC7.

The revelation comes after WTOP Ticketbuster and ABC7 helped driver Christen Eliason get her ticket voided last July.

At the time, Department of Public Works (DPW) spokeswoman Linda Grant told WTOP and ABC7 that Eliason would receive a refund in six to eight weeks. Last October, Eliason contacted WTOP and ABC7 to say she didn’t get her money back. DPW admitted it never sent the void request to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), but would do so immediately.

In January 2014, Eliason reached out again to say she still hadn’t received a refund.

DMV officials called it a glitch. A few days later, Eliason received her refund check. But when ABC7’s Kris Van Cleave went to DMV headquarters to ask about the case and what happened on Jan. 13, DMV Director Lucinda Babers ordered two guards to physically hold the doors closed to prevent him from coming inside. DMV officials later called it a misunderstanding.

DMV officials told ABC7 they were researching the glitch and would have an answer before the end of January. However, documents show that DMV officials knew about the problem before Van Cleave went to their building and didn’t provide truthful answers to either ABC7 or WTOP.

“While Glenn was investigating this ticket, he found that we have a lot of instances where there are tickets with payments that get voided later. The void puts a permanent suspend on the ticket and creates an over-payment,” writes Jeff Frank, Program Manager at Xerox State and Local Solutions on Jan. 10.

Xerox State and Local Solutions is the private vendor that processes tickets for the District government.

“There are about 450 of them from the past 5 years. It seems like we should change the refund program to stop looking at whether a ticket is suspended or not,” he writes.

The documents reveal an email chain between Frank and DMV Chief Hearing Examiner Cassandra Claytor, DMV Adjudication Services Administrator Wanda Butler and DMV Quality Program Officer Richard Prunchak. The emails also contain several communications between ABC7, WTOP Ticketbuster and DMV Director Lucinda Babers.

The problem seems to have occurred in cases where drivers didn’t agree with the initial decision on their tickets, paid for an appeal and then the ticket writers decided the ticket was issued in error.

In recent WTOP stories into tickets erroneously issued to Stephen Combs and Clare Pilkington, it was DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton who insisted drivers take this course, rather than deal with DMV directly. Both Combs and Pilkington could fall into this same computer glitch.

When told drivers like Eliason might have waited a year, Claytor questioned the logic.

“A year is too long. Won’t that (fix) allow the refunds to be detected sooner? Also, can the 450 tickets that Glenn found be added to the refund file?” she writes later on Jan. 10.

Late Wednesday afternoon, DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton revised the figured down to 400 drivers. She adds that the refunds are still being processed, although the Claytor email was sent almost seven weeks ago.

“This is nothing but sheer incompetence. How do you let persons, who are due refunds, to fall through the cracks? It gives a new meaning to red tape and the things that people hate about the government, the bureaucracy,” says John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic Manager of Public and Government Affairs.

“What is needed at the D.C. DMV is an ombudsman to represent motorists who are wrongly and erroneously ticket.”

But Townsend says the problem is bigger than that. Last fiscal year, drivers contested 351,716 tickets to DMV Adjudication. He feels the DMV is overwhelmed and cannot handle the volume.

“The DMV has to process over 2.5 million tickets each year, collect payments on them and hold adjudication hearings. It’s incapable of handling the situation. It’s incapable of administering justice to those who are wrongly ticketed. As Shakespeare said, ‘There’s something rotten in Denmark”, there’s something rotten at the DMV,” he says.

Council member Jim Graham has co-sponsored a bill to reform the D.C. DMV.

“I’m very upset, the notion that there are 450 people who should have had refunds, that were entitled to refunds who haven’t gotten them because of a computer glitch that hasn’t been known year after year, after year, is a big problem,” Graham tells ABC7.

“This is not the way we want this government to operate. The fact they seem to be withholding information, coupled with the fact they blocked your camera from entering the building last month is extremely troubling.”

Council member Mary Cheh didn’t comment for the story, but a spokesman says she’s aware of the ABC7 documents and plans to ask about it when DMV Director Lucinda Babers testifies before her committee on Friday morning.

A DMV officials says the glitch could have started 15 years ago.

If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case – along with documentation – to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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