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Sunday, May 4, 2008


The New York Post by JAMES FANELLI

May 4, 2008 -- One of New York's Finest owes almost $30,000 to the Port Authority after evading tolls at the agency's crossings for seven years, according to court records. Like other deadbeat drivers dodging their dues to the PA, Officer Anthony Lagala allegedly racked up the hefty sum by using E-ZPass lanes without an account. After issuing him fines and siccing a collection agent on him, the PA is now suing the Staten Island cop for the cash, according to a lawsuit filed in Staten Island Supreme Court on April 14. The exact amount Lagala, 45, owes is $29,193 - a combination of unpaid tolls and fines. He accrued the debt between July 30, 2000, and July 8, 2007, after his E-ZPass account became invalid, according to the PA.

Lagala, who has moonlighted as a limo driver, lives in a two-story home in the Annadale section of Staten Island. Last week, the detached house had a "for sale" sign on the front lawn and four cars, including a white Lincoln limousine, parked outside. His son said the limo was for his father's chauffeur business. Lagala said that he was unaware of any legal action against him and that he has an E-ZPass account in good standing. "If there were any problems, I would have taken care of it," he told The Post last week. "I'm a family man, and I don't play games." The cop said he believed the debt might be connected to a limousine business that he was a partner in six years ago. He speculated that some accounts were left in his name after he left the business. He declined to name his former partners. Other than confirming that Lagala is currently a cop, the NYPD had no comment. Toll beaters cost the PA millions of dollars each year.

The bi-state agency recorded 1.7 million unpaid-toll violations - amounting to $14 million in lost revenue - between October 2006 and September 2007, according to an agency spokesman. The agency said it has recovered more than half the lost revenue, with $5.3 million left to collect. The agency took in $702 million in toll revenues during that period for a total of 127 million city-bound crossings on its four New York-New Jersey bridges and two Hudson River tunnels.

Unlike MTA crossings, which have gates on E-ZPass lanes that block a vehicle that has not paid the toll, the PA's bridges and tunnel lanes have no gates. Instead, the agency has video cameras that capture the license plate of a toll-beater. Violators are sent a notice requesting payment of the toll plus a $25 administration fee. For first-time offenders, the fee is waived if the toll is paid within 15 days. A second notice is sent after 30 days. If no payment is received after another 25 days, the PA's collection agency will contact the violator with calls and letters.

If it is still unsuccessful in obtaining a payment after about six months, the PA forwards the larger cases - usually violators owing more than $100 in tolls - to a law firm that then sends out letters and pursues action on a case-by-case basis. "We have an aggressive plan in place to seek out those people who fail to pay tolls and recover the money that's owed to us," PA spokesman Steve Coleman said. "Those who fail to pay their tolls will not only ruin their credit rating, but will end up paying much more in court and administrative fees."

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