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3 On Your Side: Missing License Plate = $990 Bill From NYC

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jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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COATESVILLE, Pa. (CBS) -- When a Coatesville woman found out she was accused of wrongdoing and facing almost $1000 in fines, she said, “I didn’t do it!” but she needed help proving her innocence. So her family contacted 3 On Your Side. As Jim Donovan shows us, what happened to her can happen to anyone.

Bonnie Linton of Coatesville couldn’t believe what she got in the mail last month: A notice of violation for a parking ticket from New York City.

“I get this fine in the mail. And I’m like, ‘Okay,'” said Bonnie. “So I called them, because I didn’t understand.”

New York City told her there were 18 parking tickets in all for cars parked all over Queens: outside a food store, near a McDonalds, and many other places. The total bill was $990, but they weren’t her cars!

“I got that summons in the mail for $55, and that was bad enough because I’m on Social Security,” said Bonnie. “And then they call up and find out it’s $990 and it could be more? If it’s over $1000, it’s criminal? And I’m like, ‘I don’t go out and try to be a criminal.'”

Bonnie says she was never in New York. The Pennsylvania license plate on the tickets was HJH 3445. That used to be Bonnie’s plate, but it was for an old car she traded in when she bought a PT Cruiser at Kia of Coatesville last year. Because of a title issue Bonnie left her trade-in with her old plate at the dealership. Several days later she came back and asked for the plate. She was told it had been destroyed, but it hadn’t.

Jim Sipala owns the dealership.

“You know, Jim, we don’t really know what happened,” Sipala told Jim Donovan of 3 On Your Side. “Obviously, the tag ended up in New York and ended up getting a lot of parking tickets.”

Twelve tickets written to a Kia, three to a Cadillac, one to a GMC.

“And that’s a Dodge,” Bonnie pointed out on another ticket.

Shawn Bender is Bonnie’s son. “It’s painful as a son to see your mother go through this,” he said.

“I know this isn’t the worst thing in the world,” said Bonnie, “but to me, it’s devastating.”

Kia of Coatesville offered to pay the fines, but Bonnie says she was asked to sign papers absolving the dealership of responsibility. Sipala disputes that.

“We were willing to do whatever it took, and I think that might be where some of the confusion came in, whether we needed to get our lawyers involved in it,” said Sipala. “But typically, it’s a very quick and simple fix.”

But Bonnie didn’t want to sign anything, and she didn’t want the fines paid because it might seem like she was guilty of something she didn’t do.

So 3 On Your Side contacted PennDOT. They told Bonnie how to prove the old plate was no longer hers. We also helped get the paperwork to New York City showing Bonnie wasn’t responsible for any of those parking tickets. A New York administrative judge agreed, and Jim Donovan got to deliver the good news.

“It’s been resolved,” he said. “These are all the tickets, ‘NG,’ not guilty, signed by the judge.”

Bonnie cried, “Oh my God! I don’t believe this! Thank you so much! God bless you!”

It’s still not clear who was using the plate and how it ended up on four cars in New York City.

This is a good reminder that when you sell or trade in your car, keep the license plate. You can either transfer it to your new car or return it to the motor vehicle agency in your state. But if it goes missing, like happened to Bonnie’s old license plate, it can cost you lots of aggravation to prove it’s no longer yours.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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