No free rides Port Authority waits for $33k owed by resident

Recent reports have put Catherine Cappelluti of Weehawken under the spotlight for owing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey almost $33,000 in unpaid E-Z Pass tolls.

Between 1998 and 2004, a car registered in Cappelluti name made over 1,000 trips across the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, according to the Port Authority.

The unpaid tolls finally caught up to Cappelluti in 2004 when the Port Authority brought legal action against her to retrieve the money. Cappelluti, who failed to respond to the complaint, had a default judgment passed in Bergen County Superior Court to pay back the full amount of lost revenue.

According to the Port Authority, drivers passing through the E-Z Pass lanes without paying have happened for years, but it’s only a small percentage of drivers.

“It happens, but it is less than 1percent of our total toll revenue,” said Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority. “Most people pay, about 99 percent of the people that go through our crossings pay.”

The Port Authority does pursue various avenues to collect from toll violators before having to go to the court system.

“You get multiple notices,” said Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority. “Ultimately, if you continue to fail to pay we turn your case over to a collections agency, and ultimately if you continue to fail to pay it’s turned over to a law firm and a judgment [is filed] against you.”

Six years of unpaid tolls

According to reports in local papers, Cappelluti, who claims she is innocent and that her then boyfriend was to blame for the unpaid tolls, went through the E-Z Pass crossings a total of 1,087 times between 1998 and 2004. The Port Authority confirmed that the car registered in Cappelluti’s name crossed these tolls and issued 361 citations to the registered address. Cappelluti owes a total of $32,879 for unpaid tolls in the E-Z Pass lanes.

“That information is accurate,” said Coleman. “It breaks down to $5,704 in [unpaid] tolls and $27,175 in administrative fees. Basically, if you don’t pay there is a surcharge tacked on.”

According to Coleman, when cars go through the E-Z Pass lane without the pass or have a low balance you receive an official notice from the Port Authority that you are in violation.

“We have equipment in the lanes that takes pictures of the license plates,” said Coleman. “We ask for payment within 30 days or the fee is tagged on.”

According to Coleman, the case went to court on July 2004 and the Port Authority got a judgment against Cappelluti, who did not respond to the complaint, to pay the money.

Similar to when consumers default on their credit cards, the Port Authority sends multiple notices in an attempt to collect payment. Once those attempts fail, the case is turned over to a collections agency. If both recourses fail to collect payment, they proceed with legal action on court.

“We follow a process,” said Coleman. “[Going to court] is the last step to try and recover money owed to us, and from the time you are a violator we are trying to do the best we can to recover the money.”

Default judgment and consequences

According to information from the Law Division of Bergen County Superior Court, Cappelluti case went to court on July 1, 2004, but the defendant never responded to the complaint and as a result the judge passed a default judgment.

The Port Authority was represented by Dan Horgan of the Law Firm Waters, McPherson, and McNeill in Trenton.

“We have a judgment a number of years ago against her for about $33,000 in favor of the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey,” said Horgan. “What happened was that a vehicle registered to her was going back and forth over the Hudson River Crossings, obviously, a substantial number of times.”

“I think that her statement in the newspaper was that she had a boyfriend that was using the car I guess a lot,” said Horgan. “The difficulty with that sort of thing is that it doesn’t matter who is using the car because it’s your car. You are responsible as the owner of the car for its operation.”

Cappelluti is just one of a number of people, who have passed through the E-Z Pass lanes without paying the toll. However, some drivers have also done this by accident, and according to Coleman it’s not a frequent occurrence.

According to local reports, the Port Authority recorded $1.7 million in unpaid toll violations at its crossings – amounting to $14 million in lost revenue. However, they are in the process of recovering the money with about $5.3 million left to collect.

“[The figure] was over a one year period from October 2006 to September 2007,” said Coleman. “It was $14 million in lost revenue for that one year. Some [of the cases] are in court and some are still being worked on by a collection agency.”

“There is always somebody that goes through with a low balance, but the reality of it is most people pay the tolls as they should,” said Horgan. “If they don’t, sooner or later it catches up.”

As far as Cappelluti case, she still has not made any arrangements with the Port Authority.

“She still owes us money and hasn’t made any payment arrangements,” said Coleman.

According to Horgan, the firm will continue to look for any assets Cappelluti may have to collect on payment, as they do with anyone who continues to avoid making payments.

“If people never pay their bills, it effects them and effects their ability to get credit,” said Horgan. “So sooner or later Ms. Cappelluti will want to buy a house or a car and this will be an impediment in doing that. If she wants to settle the bill she has the opportunity to do that.”

“She is one of a few extreme cases,” said Horgan. “We got judgments against [other violators] and try to collect. Periodically, we look if they have any assets. If you own property we would get an order to levy on the asset.”

Comments on this story can be sent to

“She still owes us money and hasn’t made any payment arrangements.” – Steve Coleman


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group