Residents say city demanded payment for old, bogus parking tickets

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago residents said they were being harassed by collection agencies, some ordered to pay old tickets for vehicles they said they never owned. One person facing fines wasn't even licensed to drive.

Drivers owe the city almost $1.5 billion in old, unpaid tickets, the oldest dating back to 1990. The city said it's made it a top priority to get scofflaws to pay up, but the new goal to collect is raising questions over some bogus parking tickets.

The I-Team hotline was ringing off the hook with disputes from angry drivers and some, well, who don't even drive.

"I was surprise when I see this because I never have a driver's license," said Maria Castillo.

Castillo said she's also never had a car either, but she received a bill for more than $1,200 in unpaid tickets from the city of Chicago.

"I say what? I'm not owing this money," Castillo said. "I never drive, I never get a driver's license, that's why my surprise."

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A collection agency hired by the city said Castillo had four tickets dating back to 2012 and 2013. Castillo said she called the city to explain, but it went nowhere.

"We never received a calling back, and that is why we decided to contact you," she said.

Castillo said the I-Team's November investigation about Kathleen Dagis, who faced a bill for a 20-year-old ticket connected to a motorcycle she never owned until the I-Team helped her get it out of her name.

The I-Team told the city about Castillo. The Illinois Secretary of State verified that she had never owned a car or had a driver's license. Then, the city dropped her $1,200 bill.

After a month and a half of emails with no specific answers about decades-old tickets and some mistakes, the I-Team showed up at the Finance Department.

Molly Poppe: "Hold on, I'm not doing an interview right now."
Jason Knowles: "We are doing an interview right now because we have asked for an interview several times, and we want to talk about the cases and why people are getting old tickets for vehicles they don't own."

Poppe, the director of public affairs for the Finance Department, also acknowledged there have been additional complaints.

"There's going to be issues we need to address, we have worked to address those issues, that's why we have a Department of Administrative Hearings process, that's why we have other processed to make sure people can adjudicate tickets," Poppe said.

She said some people disputing tickets may have sold their vehicles and left their license plates on them, or may have forgotten to update their address.

"When they move, when they sell their vehicles, their first call needs to be with the Secretary of State to make sure that license plate is no longer going to be registered to them," she said.

But some drivers who turned to the I-Team said there are flaws in this new push to collect, and question how they're supposed to now prove ticket disputes from so long ago.

"Now you have to sit back and think, where was I at 20 years ago?" said Nicole Davis, who also contacted the I-Team.

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The Secretary of State's Office was able to help prove that some of these drivers were innocent, based on old records. The office said it holds on to them, to help people prove these cases to the city.

But by law, the state is able to purge records 10 years or older, so there could be incidents where there is no proof.

1) Check the city's website to see if you have Outstanding Tickets
2) Contest Chicago Parking Tickets here
3) City of Chicago's ticket helpline 312.744.7275 open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.
4) Contact the Illinois Secretary of State for copies of old vehicle records.
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