4/13/2008Connecticut: Car Seizures Exclude the Politically Connected
New Haven, Connecticut tows cars of students and residents who owe $25, skiping the vehicles belonging to the politically connected.
New Haven, Connecticut has been using a license plate scanning camera to generate millions in revenue from car seizures for the past three years. Now called "Plate Hunter," the program is designed to grab the car of anyone the city claims owes as little as $25 -- anyone, that is, who is not politically connected. The vehicles are held until fines, impound fees and towing charges are paid in full.
On Friday, the city council was forced to suspend the program after reports surfaced that powerful local figures were being let off the hook. The most recent scandal involved fire commissioner Boise Kimber whose white GMC Yukon was scanned last Friday. Kimber allegedly owed $350 in parking tickets, but state Marshal Peter Criscuolo, the towing supervisor and North Haven fire commissioner, put a stop to the towing after a conversation with Kimber. Likewise, a prominent member of the business community was also able to place a call to local officials, including Tax Collector C.J. Cuticello, to stop his car from being towed.
"If it happened two times it may have happened ten times," Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said in a statement. "This is unacceptable and unfair to the taxpayers of this city."
Those who are not connected have been hit hard by the program. Cuticello has used his camera towing team to target out-of-state students who attend Yale University, insisting that they pay a Connecticut property taxes on their vehicle in addition to all of the taxes they pay in their home state. Even faculty are not immune. Lecturer Michael Faison had his 2001 Volkswagen Golf towed over a mere $33 late fee. Faison received no notice that he owed anything before his car was taken.
Cuticello and Criscuolo will resume grabbing cars on April 23 after a review of procedures.