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CBS4 Investigation Reveals $1M In Questionable Parking Tickets

Written by Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) - The Denver Public Works Department and Denver City Attorney's Office are scrutinizing as many as 40,000 to 50,000 parking tickets, worth more than $1 million, that may have to be recalled after a CBS4 Investigation found parking agents who handed out the tickets had no legal authorization to do so.

"If the city attorney tells us to do that yes, that's what we may have to do," said George Delaney, the manager of Denver Public Works, which employs 58 vehicle control agents or VCAs.

Each vehicle control agent is legally required by the city to have a current, valid appointment from Denver's Manager of Safety before they can enforce parking violations. The appointments, which designate the employees as "Special Police Officers," are in force for two years before they need to be renewed. The authorization gives the parking agents the powers to hand out citations for everything from expired meters to street sweeping violations.

"We do require VCAs to have that in possession at all times along with their identification," Delaney said.

But the CBS4 investigation found Vehicle Control Agent Paul Lucero, who was hired in 2010, never received an appointment as a special police officer. Queried by CBS4 about Lucero's status, Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for Denver's manager of safety said, "We do not have an appointment for Paul Lucero." But he was put out on the streets anyway, from August 2010 through October 2010, to write tickets. One vehicle control agent told CBS4 Lucero was likely churning out between 50 to 100 tickets a day.

Public Works and other city agencies began looking into Lucero's authority to write tickets after learning about it from the CBS4 investigation.

"Because he never received an appointment," Delaney said, "he should never have been on the street."

Through the Colorado Open Records Act, CBS4 obtained copies of parking citations Lucero wrote in August of 2010, even though he lacked the legal authority.

CBS4 also found another vehicle control agent, William Shirland, who wrote tickets for two full years after his authority had expired. According to records obtained by CBS4, Shirland's appointment as a special police officer expired Jan. 1, 2009. But tickets obtained by CBS4 show Shirland was still writing them in December 2010 -- nearly two years later -- even though his certification had long since lapsed.

Parking management sources say Shirland was a prolific ticket writer, putting out as many as 200 citations a day for street sweeping violations. Over the course of two years it's estimated he may have written 40,000 tickets without the required legal authority to do so.

Between Shirland and Lucero, the pair may have written roughly 50,000 tickets worth a minimum of $1.25 million.

Delaney was asked, "You may have to void thousands of tickets and refund the money?"

"It would be a substantial amount of money, yes it would," Delaney said.

Delaney said his agency is currently sorting through all the questionable tickets trying to figure out exactly how many there are and how much money the city might have to refund. He says Public Works is waiting for a legal opinion from the Denver city attorney on the validity of the tickets before determining its next step.

"Then we will act accordingly. We will advise people if those are not valid tickets, we will do so and take whatever steps are necessary as they dictate," Delaney said.

Greg Rawlings, a former Denver city attorney for 5 1/2 years, now in private practice, reviewed the records gathered in the CBS4 Investigation.

"I don't see they have a leg to stand on. How could they be valid at all? These people had no authority to give you a ticket. There are thousands of people who paid a bunch of money to the city and they should get their money back," Rawlings said.

Rawlings said the tickets that were written by people with no current legal authority aren't worth the paper they were written on.

"They're bogus. How could they be otherwise? I see nothing in the City Charter or code that gives these people the right to do this. Someone dropped the ball big time," Rawlings said.

Rawlings said he expects the City Attorney's Office to argue against refunding any money and voiding tickets on two fronts: That anyone who paid a ticket was admitting guilt, and therefore deserved the ticket. Or he suggested that the city attorney might argue that if they were given a ticket, they had violated the law, even if the person citing them was not legally authorized.

"I think you have to go into the database, pull every one, find out who paid and give them their money back. They're going to write some checks; they have to write some checks. It's the only thing that's fair. This is plain as day. It's time for them to do the right thing on this," Rawlings said.

Rawlings indicated a class action lawsuit might loom if the city balks at issuing refunds.

Both vehicle control agents, Shirland and Lucero, have now been taken off the streets and reassigned to other jobs that do not involve handing out tickets.

Additional Resources

The below link contains the following in this order:

-- A typical citation written by Vehicle Control Agent Paul Lucero in 2010, even though he never received authorization to write tickets
-- The Official Appointment as a Special Police Officer for William Shirland, which expired January 1, 2009
-- One of as many as 40,000 tickets Shirland wrote in the two years after his authorization expired

View the PDF file here

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