The roster of 157 companies have amassed outstanding missed tolls and penalties totaling almost $3.7 million.
Traffic flows south on the I-294 tri-state tollway near the Touhy Avenue plaza. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / August 5, 2012)
A trucking company based in the southwest suburbs that owes the Illinois Tollway almost $215,000 in unpaid tolls and fines leads a list of "super scofflaws" that the toll road agency debuted on its website Wednesday.
The roster of 157 companies has amassed unpaid missed tolls and penalties totaling almost $3.7 million, with some violations dating back as long as 10 years, according to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Yet representatives from several of the businesses that the Tribune contacted said the Tollway's claims are inaccurate and that their companies were being unjustly flogged in public.
The names of the companies and the amounts they owe are posted at illinoistollway.com, highlighted by a banner at the top of the page that says, "List of super scofflaws. Learn more.''
The Tollway published online the list of toll violators owing $1,000 or more one day after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation allowing the practice.
The list will be updated quarterly, officials said, adding that there are no plans to create a public list of individual, nonbusiness-related violators.
"This is certainly a list of shame," said Kristi Lafleur, Tollway executive director. "This is an effort to use every enforcement tool that is available to us to pursue these businesses and to do the right thing for the 98 percent of the people who pay their tolls."
No. 1 on the Tollway's list is Landa Transport Inc., a trucking company based in Frankfort. The Tollway has sued the company to collect $214,859.10 in unpaid tolls and fines.
"Clearly when you are looking at almost $215,000, that is more than a simple mistake and it seems to be someone who does not want to pay," Lafleur said.
Eddie Garza, operations manager at Landa Transport, said he had no idea his company had racked up so many violations and that the Tollway never contacted him about it.
Garza, who took over the company in January after his father died, said all of his trucks that are running the roads have I-PASS transponders, but the trucks rarely use the toll roads.
"I could pretty much guarantee that we do not owe that much because we don't have that kind of equipment to generate that kind of money," he said. "We don't even spend that (amount) in fuel, let alone tolls."
Because We Care Too Inc., a Country Club Hills-based company that drives senior citizens and people with disabilities and mental illnesses to doctor appointments, made the scofflaw list for back tolls and fines totaling $4,310.70. Company owner Lynnette DeGraffenreid said she had no idea the violator list would be published and that she is worried it will hurt business.
"There was no reason why we should have gotten it. That's what I was trying to explain to them," said DeGraffenreid, adding that she doesn't understand how the fees piled up because the two vans for her business have I-PASS transponders and a credit card attached to the account.
"They said there was nothing they could do anymore and it was out of their hands," she said of the Tollway's collection agency.
"It'll give us a bad name," she said of the list. "I don't know what our contractors will say."
The scofflaw list is dominated by freight-hauling businesses, but it includes limousine and taxi services, painting companies, a recycling service, towing firms, a day care center, a senior citizen health consultancy, a dairy distributor and other businesses.
Violators can get off the list by calling the phone number listed on their collection agency notices to "resolve their debt," according to the website.
The Tollway already has filed lawsuits against each business as a last attempt to collect after contacting each violator at least nine times and offering to negotiate a settlement and payment plan, officials said.
The Tollway also is working with the state comptroller's office to withhold tax refunds from the most serious violators, officials said.
Lafleur said it is not the toll authority's intention to damage businesses' reputations, but rather to collect the judgments approved by the courts. The toll agency has filed almost 200 lawsuits against scofflaws in circuit courts across northeastern Illinois and collected almost $500,000 in administrative judgments, officials said.
At No. 50 on the list is Fresh Start Learning Daycare in Maywood. The day care owes the Tollway $19,664.90, according to the Tollway.
A person who answered the phone Wednesday afternoon at Fresh Start said she was worried that the list would cost the company business.
"We had an I-PASS and they claimed it didn't have any money on it and we had a credit card on file," said the woman, who hung up without giving her name. "We're trying to get this resolved right now."
Paul Cook, co-owner of Painters USA Inc. in Wheaton, said his company has been disputing $50,762.20 in charges for several months because it believes the Tollway has the wrong records. Cook said his lawyer has been trying to contact the Tollway through emails and phone calls but that the agency hasn't called back.
"I see no reason for them to publish something," Cook said of the list. "It's not like we're running away or hiding."
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