Motorists who paid tolls with large bills illegally detained by private company

9:53 AM, May 24, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- There is new information about the illegal detention of motorists on Florida Toll roads. We first reported the practice in February.

Initially, when we asked the state about the practice, it tried to deny it ever happened and cover it up. However, the state admits it did detain motorists who tried to pay with more than a $20 bill.

It happened when Joel Chandler was on the Polk Parkway last summer and he tried to use a $100. The toll taker wanted personal information before allowing Chandler to leave.

He asked if the practice is to detain motorist who use large bills, and the toll taker said yes.

Chandler says it is a serious criminal offense to detain someone without the proper legal authority. However, at the time, Chandler says the toll roads were doing that every day.

Chandler, who has filed a federal class action lawsuit, discovered the policy to detain people on the toll roads was being enforced by a private corporation called Faneuil, which has a 7-year, $300 million contract to operate the toll roads for the state of Florida.

According to Chandler, it is now a private corporation being paid for with tax dollars that is engaged in a massive conspiracy to violate the rights of Floridians.

While the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Turnpike Enterprise and Faneuil, which hires all the toll takers, keep pointing fingers at each other for instituting the policy, clearly the illegal detainment was conducted by the toll takers on Faneuil's behalf. However, Faneuil says it has no knowledge of the policy, but that can't be true and Chandler says he can prove it with records he obtained from Faneuil.

Chandler says it is interesting the company says it doesn't have any knowledge of the policy when it is in the toll collectors manual. He says Faneuil's explanation is absurd.

Initially the secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation said she had no idea what Chandler was talking about when he made inquires about the program, although it has more than five million forms detailing the illegal detention on the toll roads.

According to Chandler, it is unbelievable that the secretary of Transportation claims ignorance of the program because the DOT is storing 60 tons paper relating to the program. He says the response the FDOT doesn't know has to be an outright lie.

While the Department of Transportation has temporarily suspended the policy of detaining and taking down information from drivers who use bills larger than $50s, we've learned some toll roads have taken it a step further - they won't accept anything more than a $20.

That's the policy on the Orange-Osceola Parkway, although there is no notice of that until a driver is at the toll booth.  When we tried to pay with a $100 bill, the toll taker refused to take our money. Instead of taking legal tender, the toll way gives you a card to make the payment, saying you have insufficient funds.

When we asked a toll taker why they have the policy, he said it might be because of counterfeit bills. But actually, counterfeit bills aren't the problem. In a two and a half year period, the DOT got $16,000 in counterfeit bills, while at  the same time it  collected close to $2 billion tolls.

That brings us back to why those who run the toll system are having problems with legal tender over $20. Chandler says no one will give a straight answer about that. But Chandler will try to find out in his federal law suit.

He admits this is not curing cancer, it's not going to change the world, but in some small way it advances the cause of civil rights for everyone.

A federal jury will decide if the state and a private company can violate driver's rights to travel freely without detainment.

The Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Turnpike Enterprise and Faneuil all declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit. 

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