Four Face Felony Theft Charges Over $315K in Turnpike Toll Debts
Four motorists accused of collectively owing more than $315,000 in unpaid tolls and fees to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission today were held for trial on felony theft charges.
The prosecutions are the first in Bucks County under a recent crackdown spearheaded by turnpike officials on habitual scofflaws who have racked up millions of dollars in toll violations.
Among the tools being used in the crackdown is the filing of felony theft of services charges against the most egregious offenders.
Recent legislation also empowers turnpike officials to ask the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to suspend the vehicle registrations of motorists who have six or more unpaid toll violations or who owe at least $500 in outstanding tolls and administrative fees.
Charged in Bucks County with theft of services are Jarrett L. Stiff, 36, of Warminster; Kelly M. Robinson, 32, of Lansdale; Christina M. Heller, 52, of Hatboro; and Ayelet D. Farage, 47, of Elkins Park.
All four waived their right to a preliminary hearing this afternoon before Magisterial District Judge Joseph P. Falcone of Bensalem. Falcone scheduled them to be formally arraigned Sept. 14 in Bucks County Common Pleas Court in Doylestown.
Stiff (top photo) is accused of owing $127,967.40, the sum of $37,572.40 in unpaid tolls and $90,395 in administrative fees. According to a probable cause affidavit, Stiff blew through turnpike interchanges 2,264 times without paying between April 15, 2013, and Oct. 24, 2017. Turnpike officials have sent him 4,528 notices in their collection efforts, the affidavit says.
Robinson (second photo) owes $66,553.43, about half in unpaid tolls and half in administrative fees, her affidavit says. She is accused of evading 840 separate tolls between Dec. 6, 2013, and Sept. 22, 2017; resulting in 1,680 payment demand notices sent to her.
Heller (third photo) is charged with arrears of $60,634.40, including $28,114.40 in unpaid tolls and $32,520 in fees. Her affidavit says she has been sent 1,626 notices seeking payment of 813 unpaid tolls from March 30, 2012, through Oct. 3, 2015.
Farage (bottom photo) has a debt of $60,569.65 – including $27,829.65 in tolls and $32,730 in violation fees. She drove through interchanges 822 times without paying from April 16, 2012, through Oct. 31, 2017, resulting in 1,644 notices sent to her in vain, her charging documents allege.
Thefts of more than $2,000 are charged as felonies of the third degree, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
In each case, the affidavits say, investigators made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to set up payment agreements with the defendants before resorting to criminal charges.
In addition to the theft charges, Stiff, Robinson and Ayelet were charged with driving while their licenses were suspended or revoked. Investigators searched their driving histories, finding that all three had incurred toll violations at times when their drivers’ licenses were under suspension, the charging documents say.
Most of the unpaid tolls charged to the suspects were incurred in Bucks County, which has been an epicenter for toll violations, according to turnpike officials.
Two of the three interchanges with the highest violation rates in Pennsylvania – Neshaminy and Bensalem – are in Bucks County.
An amnesty program last year prompted more than 2,000 motorists to enter into payment agreements totaling $1.4 million, turnpike officials reported. Even so, another 10,000 motorists still owed in excess of $17 million as of last summer – more than half of it by residents of Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties.
Such arrears prompted state legislators to enact Act 165 of 2016, providing for the suspension of scofflaws’ vehicle registrations. The law took effect in August 2017.
Ray Morrow, a retired FBI agent now serving as the Turnpike Commission’s Chief Compliance Officer, also persuaded several District Attorney’s Offices to begin prosecuting the worst offenders, rather than referring the matters to civil court.
Since December 2017, Morrow said, 26 criminal complaints have been filed. Nine defendants have pleaded guilty, and the remaining cases are proceeding in Bucks, Dauphin, Lancaster, Cumberland, Chester, Westmoreland and York Counties.
“Most Pennsylvania Turnpike travelers pay their toll bills and violations on time, but a few extreme scofflaws are ignoring hundreds of mailed notices and simply refusing to pay what’s owed,” Morrow said. “We have partnered with prosecutors across our toll-road system to pursue theft-of-services charges and recover unpaid tolls from chronic violators.
“We are grateful for the Bucks County DA’s efforts to help us pursue the very worst toll evaders,” said Morrow, who worked with Bucks County Detective Timothy Perkins on the local investigation.
The case has been assigned to Assistant District Attorney Jovin Jose for prosecution.
Criminal charges are allegations subject to proof in court. The accused are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Contact: Jovin Jose, 215.348.6589, email@example.com