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Lockport Town Court loses track of $600,000 in traffic tickets, state audit says

To hear the State Comptroller's Office tell it, town justices come and go, but poor record-keeping at Lockport Town Court is perennial.

In an audit released Tuesday, the Comptroller's Office said that it can't tell if 6,000 traffic tickets from 1985 to 2017 were paid or not. The fines on those tickets total more than $600,000.

If they really weren't paid, those drivers' licenses should have been suspended, the audit said.

"It may very well be this money was properly collected. There's no way to know for sure," said Brian Butry, spokesman for Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Also, the auditors couldn't tell if $86,000 in bail posted for cases handled by justices who have left office ever was returned to those who posted it. Bail is supposed to be returned at the end of a case, unless it's applied to any fines or fees assessed against the defendant.

"The records are so bad, it could have been returned," Butry said.

The audit says one possibility is that the bail was collected by one justice and returned by another, with no record made.

Police departments report traffic tickets to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV tracks the tickets and its data is available to court clerks to see which tickets are unresolved or which drivers haven't paid their fines.

If a fine isn't paid within 60 days, the court is supposed to tell the DMV about it. The DMV Scofflaw Program then gives the driver another 30 days to take care of the fine. After that, the DMV can suspend the person's license.

In Lockport, 4,000 of the old tickets could have been referred to DMV for possible license suspension, the audit said.

"This is a problem we've identified in town courts across the state," Butry said.

"Our court is working to update all these files and to make sure that record-keeping is right up to date. They're working overtime to do this," Lockport Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said Tuesday.

He told the auditors that the allegedly uncollected $600,000 isn't so bad.

"Considering that the court collected and remitted $1.8 million in fines, fees, etc. in 2016 alone, it may have collected $50 million or more since 1985, of which the uncollected amount would be a small percentage indeed, possible as low as 1 percent," Crocker wrote in a response to the audit.

Crocker told the auditors that their report doesn't take into account whether the tickets were issued to people from outside the region or state, making them harder to enforce.

"In private enterprise these debts would be written off as uncollectible," Crocker wrote. "By reciting the amount of uncollected fines and fees, but not taking into account the above considerations, a misperception that the money could have been easily collected for the town is created."

The auditors responded that the Town Board has the legal responsibility to "ensure all court revenues are properly handled."

Justices Leonard G. Tilney Jr., in office since 2003, and Cheryl A. Antkowiak, in office since 2013, did not return calls seeking comment on the audit.

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