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'Operation Meltdown': NYC Ice Cream Trucks Seized, Owners Accused Of Dodging $4.5M In Fines

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Nearly 50 ice cream trucks are being seized by the city for allegedly participating in a scam to avoid paying $4.5 million in traffic violations.

It's called "Operation Meltdown" and targets truck owners who have racked up 22,000 violations from 2009 to 2017.

Ice cream trucks are typically enjoyed for their sweet treats and the smiles that follow, not for running red lights, parking at fire hydrants and blocking crosswalks.

ice cream truck violation
An ice cream truck illegally stands in the bus lane on Fifth Avenue at East 79th Street in July 2018. (Courtesy: New York City Department of Finance)

"That's terrible because if kids are running towards ice cream trucks but they're not stopping, or they're not stopping at red lights or stop signs, they could get run over," Bryan Tejada, of Long Island City, said.

According to Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, at least 46 truck drivers were doing just that, and then scamming their way out of paying $4.5 million in fines.

Web Extra: Read the summons and verified complaint (.pdf)

"It's not only the money, it's the deterrence factor," New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito said. "Summonses act as a deterrence. If there's no deterrence, then there's no reason to follow any of the traffic laws."

The owners avoided paying fines by transferring ownership of the trucks between dozens of fake companies. They were caught when the Department of Finance tried to collect those debts and learned the companies didn't exist.

Alex Sergiadis, the driver of Pete's Ices, told CBS2's Nina Kapur he hopes this doesn't give all ice cream trucks a bad name. He says obeying traffic laws is crucial, especially when children are involved.

"You put out your signs that say 'slow children crossing,' and you can't control how kids run, but I've been doing this 21 years and I've never had a kid get hurt while I've been working," he said.

Parents agree, saying truck drivers need to be extra cautious.

It's also a lot of money for the city.

The worst offenders are drivers with more than $10,000 in fines.

The lawsuit also requires the trucks' owners to pay the city damages and prevents them from transferring the ownership of the vehicles that have outstanding parking summonses.

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