Some people are worried about being billed again, despite taking advantage of the recent launch of the DMV Ticket Amnesty Program in which District government collected almost $1 million in revenue after just one month.

The program collects photo-enforced, moving violation and parking tickets in the District issued before Jan. 1, 2000. Under the amnesty, penalties are waived and only the original fees is due. But everyone isn’t buying it.

A lawsuit was filed Aug. 29 against the District government for its failure to stop multiple billing on paid and dismissed parking tickets. The lawsuit alleges the District government knowingly allowed agencies to maintain a “pattern of massive fraud and mismanagement” that has cost Washington drivers millions of dollars.

The plaintiff, Kwasi Seitu, accused Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Public Works (DPW) and every District mayor since 1981, with the exception of incumbent Vincent Gray, of engaging in a conspiracy to defraud the public through the auto ticketing and fine collection system as it has evolved over the years.

“The attitude of D.C. officials towards the matter is reflected in the fact that they have not only never taken any action to correct the problem, but in fact have committed various acts to perpetuate and profit from it,” Seitu said.

On the morning of Jan. 30, 1997, Seitu, a community activist, ventured outside his northwest home to find his car missing. Soon he found it hadn’t been stolen, but rather impounded as a result of overdue parking tickets that he had, in fact, paid. Getting the issue resolved, however, led Seitu to undertake a case involving not only him, but thousands of victims of alleged traffic fine fraud over at least three decades.

Seitu not only discovered he was being held responsible for tickets he paid, but that fictitious tickets based on those were also on file against him. The key revelation in the lawsuit is that a “quota system,” which had distorted ticket billing in Washington for many years, led to such dysfunction, as revealed in every Department of Public Works (DPW) and Department of Motor Vehicle audit since 1981, that in 1999 the D.C. City Council simply gave up requiring the audits.

“Since 1981, in report after report to the DC City Council and the Attorney General, the DC Auditor cited the problem and the fact that DPW and officials appeared to make no effort to address, correct, and cease the practice,” the lawsuit alleged.

Ariel Levinson-Williams, attorney for DPW and Sylvia Ballinger, public information officer for DMV declined to comment. However, Yolandra Branche, acting District of Columbia auditor, offered without comment a history of reports tracking the issues involved, starting with a 1982 report by then-auditor Otis H. Troupe.

Troupe focused on booting, noting a pattern of one “unwritten policy” after another, each evolving out of a bad decision “eliciting other bad decisions in support of itself.” Another report, this time from 1983, singled out poor record-keeping and inadequately designed procedures. In 1995, the biggest problem cited by the auditor in another report was the city’s disastrously mismanaged outsourcing of parking enforcement to Lockheed Martin IMS Corp. and its subcontractors.

By 1998, Interim D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols issued a scathing report titled “District’s Department of Public Works Improperly Collected and Retained Millions in Parking Ticket Overpayments,” which showed DPW improperly accumulated $17.8 million in overpayments between 1981 and 1997. A year later, the auditor offered yet another detailed report critical of the city’s relationship with Lockheed, but that’s where the trail ended.

Seitu persisted in exposing the process and demanding accountability. “Keep everything public,” he insisted. “The public needs to be made aware of the situation, not pay any tickets and join my lawsuit.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO