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New Web site exposes parking cheaters

October 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Right off the bat, it's important for us to emphasize many people have what's known as a "hidden disability" like lupus, a heart or lung condition. Those disabilities aren't readily apparent, but they are completely legitimate. That, however, is not the case with many people.Kevin Clark parked his Escalade in the handicap spot outside his Laguna Hills office on Monday. The Escalade is registered to him, but the handicap placard belongs to Khoan Duong, Kevin's 95-year old grandmother.

Think you've spotted fraudulent use of handicap parking placards? Report it at Handicappedfraud.org!

Eyewitness News heard about Kevin through a Web site called handicappedfraud.org, where people anonymously report suspected violators.

The person who reported Kevin wrote to the Web site: "I heard from someone that his grandmother passed away and that he still receives the placards every two years and uses them. That is despicable."

"My grandma, she's alive and she's 95-years-old," said Clark.

Two of Kevin's co-workers moved the Escalade out of the handicap spot after he was confronted.

Anthony Hurtado also works in the building.

"Around the office we were asking ourselves why does this guy park in the handicap? He's obviously pretty mobile. He hops around, he's a pretty agile guy," said Hurtado.

Maureen Birdsall runs the Web site handicappedfraud.org. Her volunteers walk the streets looking for violators.

They take a picture of the car, write down the handicap placard number, photograph it and leave a note on the windshield.

"What does it say? It says you've been reported on handicappedfraud.org," said Maureen Birdsall. "At the end of every month, take all the placard numbers and print reports and send to DMV so they can investigate the placards, see if they've been stolen, see if being used by the proper people."

For Maureen, it's personal. One day she had to drop her grandfather off at the hospital. She was forced to park far away because all the handicap spaces were taken.

"I was stuck leaving my grandfather on the hospital stairs who was blind and had dementia. And had to say please wait for me, I got back, he was so confused and upset," said Birdsall.

More Californians than ever have disabled placards or plates. According to the DMV, 2.1 million people out of 23 million registered California drivers have them. That's one in every ten drivers.

UCLA's parking enforcement unit confiscates about three fraudulently used placards every week.

"I even found one lady using placard that belonged to her deceased mother. She claimed she inherited the placard from her mother," said Jim Steel, UCLA Parking Enforcement.

Last year alone, the California DMV cancelled more than 23,000 placards after determining the real placard holders had died.

Counterfeit or stolen placards have also been spotted for sale at flea markets and on eBay.

Sometimes it's a shady doctor selling access to the placards for profit.

"The word was out, go see this doctor for $20. I believe was the fee. He'll sign off whatever you need to get the placard," said Vito Scattaglia, DMV, Division of Investigations.

Undercover investigators with the DMV teamed up with the City of San Fernando Police Department for this one day sweep.

Martha Reyes is one of 14 people to be cited. It'll cost them a $335 parking ticket just from the city. And because the fraudulent use of a placard is a misdemeanor criminal offense, it also means a trip to court, an additional fine up to $1,000, community service working with the disabled, and sometimes one year of probation.

At first, Claudia Diaz claimed her disabled daughter was with her at the swap meet. She was just not in the car, but Diaz later admitted that her daughter was at school.

"My daughter is in school, my husband is going to come and pick her up," said Diaz.

Another man was using his disabled wife's placard. Again, she was not with him as the law requires.

"I don't consider myself a criminal just because I drove up here to run an errand for my wife," said the unidentified husband.

For DMV investigators, enforcing the law can be dangerous. One past arrest stands out for Vito Scattaglia.

"In attempting to subdue her, I got a nice bite on the arm and a couple other investigators got kicked in the chest," said Scattaglia.

One woman was hauled off to jail not only was she using someone else's placard, she had an outstanding warrant for DUI and was driving without a license.

"There are obviously just some selfish or lazy people who are just rolling the dice and hope not to get caught," said Sgt. Kevin Glasgow, SFPD.

People like Andrea Digiulio and her disabled mom, hope the cheaters get caught and pay.

Eyewitness News reporter Rob Hayes: "How does it make you feel when you see parking illegally in these spots?"

"Well, what happens is then we don't have a spot. Then I have to schlep all the way into the store with her," said Andrea Digiulio.

"It annoys me, I'd like to just punch them in the mouth," said Naomi Slavin, who is disabled.

One more issue: People with disabled placards do not have to feed the meter. So when someone misuses a placard that's money local cities do not collect.

For instance, some meters costs $2 an hour. If a cheater were to use a placard at that type of meter 5 days a week, 8 hours a day and let's just say 50 weeks a year - - that's $4,000 a year lost to the city and that's just one cheater.

Think you've spotted fraudulent use of handicap parking placards? Report it at Handicappedfraud.org!

 

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