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State audit: $400K in Town of Niagara traffic tickets go unpaid

TOWN OF NIAGARA – More than 11,000 traffic tickets issued in the Town of Niagara since 1985, totaling almost $400,000 worth of potential fines, have never been resolved, according to a state audit issued Wednesday.

Town Justice John P. Teixeira, who has been on the bench for 39 years, said the figure is large, but it’s a fraction of the “hundreds of thousands” of tickets issued in the town over the 30-year period. He said he believes many of the unresolved tickets were issued to Canadians and tourists. The Town of Niagara adjoins Niagara Falls and is home to Fashion Outlets, a giant mall popular with Canadian shoppers.

“The Town of Niagara is the busiest court in Niagara County,” Teixeira said.

The State Comptroller’s Office said its review of the Town Court records showed that neither of the two veteran justices, Teixeira and James J. Faso, generated reports of balances due. When the auditor asked the court clerks to click on the computer-generated report of balances due, the result was that as much as $399,321 in fines and fees have gone unpaid since 1989.

“The figure looks massive, but it’s not any worse than other towns,” Town Supervisor Lee S. Wallace contended. “I’m not happy about this large number, and it doesn’t put us in a really good light, but from my understanding of the problem, we don’t have a lot of recourse unless we had a lot more personnel.”

“I don’t know why the state didn’t go further to find out how many of them are suspended,” said Teixeira, referring to the court’s ability to suspend a scofflaw’s driver’s license after 60 days of not paying fines. “Probably some of them have passed away dead. All of them are suspended.”

But a look inside 38 cases chosen by the auditors at random showed that in two instances, scofflaws whose fines were more than 60 days past due did not have their licenses suspended.

Teixeira said tourists and Canadians often simply blow off traffic tickets.

“They get a ticket and they think it’s over,” he said. “When they try to renew their licenses in their home states, they find they’re suspended in New York.” Then, he said, the drivers often contact the town and pay the fines.

The audit says the judges didn’t use the state Department of Motor Vehicles scofflaw reporting function to have the state send reminders to pay past-due fines. The DMV tracks the result of all traffic tickets, but it’s dependent on local courts to provide the information.

Faso wrote to the Comptroller’s Office, “The court will now print the payment due report on a monthly basis and follow up with any necessary actions.”

Wallace said, “If there’s anything out there we can do to improve our system, we will do it.”