The Astounding Story Of How A Car Worth $600 Racked Up Over $100,000 In Parking Tickets

It might just be a world record.

At the very least one particular car has set a City of Chicago record for receiving the most parking violations ever and accumulating the most parking fines in the city's history.

The city claims Jennifer Fitzgerald owes over $100,000 in parking tickets. And no, that's not a typo or a few misplaced zeros on the end.

The amount is actually 105,761 dollars and 80 cents to be precise.

This is the total mind boggling debt the City of Chicago says the 31 year old, single mother of one, allegedly owes for parking violations on a single vehicle.

It's a car she claims she didn't own, drive or park where it racked up 678 bright orange parking tickets over a period of nearly three years according to Chicago's Department of Finance.

Based on records from the DOF's list of the city's top parking ticket scofflaws, the car in question seems to have set a record in Chicago for having received the highest number of parking tickets as well as accruing the largest fine amounts ever — beating Chicago's #2 ranked parking ticket scofflaw by $65,000 and over 400 violations!

But now Fitzgerald is fighting back with a lawsuit against the city, her ex-boyfriend and United Airlines which was filed Friday, November 2nd in Cook County Circuit Court.

A Love Story Gone Bad

According to the complaint, the somewhat confusing story starts when her former boyfriend Brandon Preveau bought a 1999 Chevy Monte Carlo from Fitzgerald's uncle for $600 in 2008. Despite paying all the fees associated with owning a vehicle (registration, title, insurance, etc.) he put the vehicle's registration in Fitzgerald's name — something the West Side Chicago resident claims was done without her knowledge.

The couple, despite having had a baby together, broke up at the start of 2009, and Preveau took the car with him after their split, using the car to drive to work at O'Hare Airport where he was employed by United Airlines.

Preveau would park the vehicle in O'Hare Parking Lot E, a secured outdoor lot surrounded by high chain link fencing that's open to the flying public but also utilized by drivers employed at the airport. The parking lot is owned by the City of Chicago and operated by Standard Parking Corporation. But according to the complaint, United Airlines leases spaces in the lot for use by airline employees.

For some reason, and unbeknownst to Fitzgerald, Preveau abandoned the vehicle, and according to the complaint contends, "On or before November 17, 2009, Brandon drove the Automobile into the Parking Lot and never drove it out again."

30 Days

While the car Preveau drove began receiving parking tickets at the O'Hare lot as early as May 23rd, 2009 the key date for this story is November 17th, 2009.

On that particular day, the vehicle was issued seven different parking tickets including being in a hazardous and dilapidated condition, no city sticker, broken headlights, missing or cracked windows, expired plates, being an abandoned vehicle, and, most importantly, a violation for parking a vehicle for more than 30 days in a city owned lot.

The Astounding Story Of How A Car Worth $600 Racked Up Over $100,000 In Parking Tickets

Beyond the $50 fine that comes with that violation, the law also states "Any vehicle parked in violation of this section shall be subjected to an immediate tow and removal to city vehicle pound or authorized garage."

Department of Aviation spokesperson Karen Pride says O'Hare parking policies essentially echo the law. 30 days is the normal maximum a vehicle is allowed to stay parked in any of O'Hare parking lots. Although exceptions can be made for a longer stay if arrangements are made between the driver and Standard Parking.

"There are signs posted at the entrance to all revenue lots at O'Hare relating the parking policy," says Pride. "If an individual plans to leave a vehicle in a revenue lot for longer than 30 days, he must notify Standard Parking, the lot operators at the airport."

"If a vehicle is in a lot for more than 30 days and Standard Parking was not notified, then the company will try to contact the owner to find out his plans to get the vehicle," Pride further explained. "If Standard cannot contact the owner, then the vehicle is towed to Lot F, where it might remain for 30-90 days, in case the owner comes back for it. After that period, the vehicle is towed to the City impound lot as abandoned."

But despite the legal fact and corresponding airport parking policies which should have seen the car yanked from the lot, airport police continued to ticket the vehicle over and over and over again for a wide range of violations until April 30th, 2012.

In the nearly two and a half years after the car had been officially designated as an abandoned vehicle by the city it had been ticketed another 677 times.

Fitzgerald's lawsuit argues the vast majority of the tickets would never have been issued if the city had just followed their own law and protocols when the vehicle was first identified as being in violation of the law.

Put On Notice

Fitzgerald finally began getting a whiff there was a serious problem in December, 2009 when the first batch of what would eventually total 391 notices from the Department of Revenue began appearing in her mailbox for the contagion of parking tickets being generated at the airport.

Fitzgerald, according to the complaint, began trying to rectify the situation in several ways.

First, she and her family pleaded with Preveau to move the car, but to no avail. She wanted to move the vehicle herself but was stymied because she didn't have keys nor could she access the car because she claims it was parked in a secure lot. She enlisted the Chicago Police Department to aide her but the complaint says the investigating officer couldn't obtain access to the lot either.

Fitzgerald asked the Illinois Secretary of State to revoke the vehicle's license plates, which finally occurred September 29, 2010.

Yet, despite the revocation, the city continued to issue the parking violations to the car for another year and a half.

In the latter part of 2011, Chicago, through their collection agency Arnold, Scott, and Harris, had obtained several judgments against Fitzgerald totaling nearly $21,000 — a mere fraction of the total the city claims she now owes.

Appearing before an Administrative Law Judge to defend herself and hopefully explain the confounding situation, Fitzgerald says she was advised by the ALJ to sign over the title to the vehicle to Preveau in order to shift liability to him, which she promptly did and delivered it to her ex-boyfriend.

Finally, Some Help

After dealing with this parking ticket nightmare by her lonesome for two years, Fitzgerald finally secured some help this past April in the form of pro-bono legal counsel from attorney Robin Omahana.

When contacted, Omahana declined to comment on the pending matter, or make his client available to discuss her situation, but directed us to his filed complaint.

Omahana wrote a letter to Arnold Scott Harris to explain the situation and ask for some sort of relief for Fitzgerald. Ultimately, in July, the collection attorneys came back and said Fitzgerald's attempt to transfer the title to Preveau was inadequate and the city would show no mercy for her situation claiming she was indeed liable for the six figures of parking ticket fines.

At that point, Omahana began moving forward to prepare the lawsuit that was filed November 2nd.

Roderick Drew, spokesperson for the city's Law Department, explained that department has not seen the lawsuit yet.

"The City hasn't yet had a chance to review the lawsuit, so we can't comment at this time," said Drew.

The City Digs In Their Heels

Trying to find out how a situation like this could occur, The Expired Meter contacted the Chicago Police Department, Standard Parking, and further pressed the city's Aviation Department for more insight into how something like this could happen. Each entity was loudly silent on the matter.

CPD spokesperson Melissa Stratton, after multiple requests by phone and email, has not answered any of The Expired Meter's questions regarding CPD's policies on parking enforcement and towing abandoned vehicles at the airport as of this story's publication. Standard Parking declined to share their thoughts saying their contract with the city forbade the company from commenting on such matters and referred this site back to the Dept. of Aviation for answers.

Pride, the Department of Aviation spokesperson for O'Hare, also did not respond to our followup questions requesting more detailed information in regards to parking enforcement and towing policies at airport lots.

So is the city really planning to collect the enormous sum of money from Fitzgerald?

"Ms. Fitzgerald may contact the Department of Finance to resolve this matter," answered DOF spokesperson Holly Stutz, punctuating her statement with a breakdown of the number of tickets and notices issued to Fitzgerald and referring us to a Freedom of Information Act option if more information was wanted.

Payment plans are available from the city to pay off larger amounts of parking ticket debt. But when a driver's license has been suspended or the vehicle has been booted in Fitzgerald's case, the city requires at least a 50% down payment and the registered owner is then given one year to pay off the balance. Although in some cases the city will agree to 24 months of payments according to a telephone operator we spoke to at Arnold Scott Harris. But none of these scenarios seem anywhere close to realistic for anyone with such an oppressive amount of debt, let alone a person like Fitzgerald who lacks employment.

What's Next?

In the meantime it seems, according to the city's ticket search website, the abandoned car was booted and Fitzgerald's driver's license has been suspended according to city databases.

Fitzgerald's lawsuit asks the court to find she was not the owner of the car and therefore not liable for the parking tickets. At worst the filing asks that the city and United Airlines should be responsible for towing the abandoned car from the parking lot on November 17, 2009 and thus no subsequent tickets should have been issued after that date.

The $100,000 parking ticket case will first see the inside of a courtroom in early May of next year.

Just a few days before Fitzgerald's lawsuit was filed but nearly three years after it was first abandoned in that O'Hare parking lot, the car with six figures in parking tickets, was finally towed to a city impound lot at O'Hare on October 26, 2012 according to the city's Find Your Vehicle website.

The car remains behind the high, razor wired topped chain link fence of the O'Hare auto pound, just a few blocks from where it had forlornly spent the past three years. It's ultimate fate will most likely be the scrapyard.

That is unless someone pays the over $100,000 in parking tickets still owing.


This story originally appeared on The Expired Meter on November 26, 2012, and was republished with permission.

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(Hat Tip to David!)