Turnpike toll booth

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has cracked down on “egregious” toll scofflaws, with a Bucks County prosecutor charging five drivers recently with felony theft for racking up a combined 1,700 in unpaid tolls. — AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Five people have been charged with felony theft in Bucks County for skipping out on Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls hundreds of times.

Jonathan Quinty, 37, of East Greenville, Rachel Andershonis, 26, of Bensalem; Robert Mansfield, 48, of Philadelphia; Antonio Green Jr., 31, of Bensalem; and Thomas Macrina, 40, of Warminster all face criminal prosecution after allegedly racking up a combined 1,700 in unpaid toll rides.

None of them could be reached for comment.

Their cases are part of an initiative by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to go after the most “egregious offenders,” a program that was kicked off in 2017.

That’s when the commission received new powers as a result of Act 165 that allowed it to take away the vehicle registrations of repeat toll dodgers. The board also began pursuing criminal charges against drivers who failed to pay at least $2,000 in tolls, usually accumulated over the course of several years.

The program has collected over $552,000 and filed 50 criminal complaints, according to the turnpike’s chief compliance officer, Ray Morrow. Eleven of the criminal complaints were filed in Bucks County.

“The highest areas where we have the most violators are Montgomery County and Bucks County by far,” Morrow said.

Between these two densely populated areas, violators account for almost $1.9 million in unpaid tolls since the commission began investigating such cases a couple of years ago, he said.

Before criminal charges are filed, violators have many opportunities to make payment to the state highway authority.

For each unpaid toll — usually when someone exits the highway through an E-ZPass lane without paying — the driver receives two letters. Following six violations, the commission can suspend the vehicle’s registration. After dozens or hundreds of violations, the state agency begins an investigation and tries to reach the vehicle’s owner to enter a payment plan, Morrow said.

The crackdown is about “fairness,” and recouping what’s lost, according to Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mark Compton.

“Customers who do the right thing and pay their tolls should not be expected to cover for others who refuse to pay their fair share,” he said in April.

Only when less punitive steps are exhausted does dashing through toll stations become a crime.

Assistant District Attorney Brittney Kern, who is overseeing the prosecutions in Bucks County, says her office is treating the alleged thefts like any other crime.

“It’s definitely about giving the turnpike the money it needs … and it’s also about accountability, just like it would be for any criminal defendant,” Kern said.

Theft of services in excess of $2,000 is a third-degree felony under Pennsylvania’s criminal code.

The five defendants in Bucks County owe more than $66,000 in unpaid tolls and fees, but that number is based on the policy of charging scofflaws the full fee from the start of the turnpike to their exit — even for a journey of a few miles.

With more information about their actual routes, the amount allegedly owed is likely to be downgraded, according to Morrow.

This article originally appeared on WHYY.org.

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