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SPECIAL REPORT: City switches collection agency, thousands receive warning letter

The city’s decision to change collection agencies has resulted in thousands of El Pasoans receiving notices in the mail alerting them to unpaid traffic tickets dating back as far as the 1990’s.

The goal is to collect more than $50 million in unpaid fines and fees.

“I got a letter from a law firm stating I had parking tickets that were in excess of 16 years old,” Northeast El Pasoan Alan Meeks told ABC-7. He recently received a notice in the mail from the law firm Delgado Acosta Spencer Linebarger and Perez saying he owes hundreds of dollars for old citations.

“Right now they’re saying $793,” an angry Meeks told ABC-7. “I thought it was a joke.”

City of El Paso Chief Financial Officer Dr. Mark Sutter said it’s no joke. “The older firm may have given up on trying to collect on some of the older ones,” Sutter said. “Now the new firm is coming in and saying they have a whole inventory of unpaid citations and tickets and that’s what they are now mailing out notices about.”

Thelma Ramos, a sales rep in El Paso, received a notice last week. “I got a statement for a ticket from 2005,” Ramos told ABC-7. “I had gone to clear my record back in 2008 to get this outside sales rep job.”

Ramos said she has no idea why she is now being asked for an additional $65. “I called the the legal firm and they said to file a dispute,” Ramos said. “However, I spoke to an attorney friend of mine who said they will ask me for a receipt and I don’t keep my receipts for 11 years.”

The managing partner of the law firm acting as the collection agency stands by its information as accurate. “We did exactly what the city requested,” said Carmen Perez, Managing Partner at Delgado, Acosta, Spencer, Linebarger & Perez. “They requested for us to mail on every outstanding fine or citation that was out there and that’s what we did.”

Perez said they’ve received hundreds of calls since the notices started going out in February. “We take those calls, we do an inquiry and check those accounts,” she said.

Perez told ABC-7 a man was so concerned after receiving one of a notices in the mail he went to Wells Fargo Tower, where the law firm is located, just to make sure the it actually existed and wasn’t a scam.

“A person may have paid a citation and then there was a fee that was added,” Perez explained, “it is that fee that maybe we are collecting on. When they pay the ticket and didn’t go to the arraignment date, there is guilty plea. At that time there is $50 added to the account. It’s a court cost fee.”

ABC-7 checked Ramos’s ticket online and found she paid the citation, but did not pay warrant/court cost fees. “If that doesn’t get paid that turns over us to collect,” Perez said.

Sutter said the City of El Paso and the law firm fully expect to collect payment on those old citations. “We may have taken a stance when we were younger, ‘I got a parking ticket. I don’t care. I’m going to ignore that,'” Sutter said. “And maybe now we’re a little older, we got the notice, ‘I didn’t clear that ticket back then. I need to go do the right thing and pay it off.'”

Pushed about the accuracy of the transfer of data, Sutter said the City of El Paso will keep a close eye on the situation.

“If we have several cases where people can say, ‘You know, I’ve kept my old receipt’ or we actually have some evidence that that’s the case, it will cause us to review that process and say, ‘Did we have a glitch in the transfer of files or something like that,'” Sutter said, “I think the important part for the City is if we are starting to get numerous notices of these, especially when people can prove ‘I already paid that, I already cleared that, I already paid it, I kept my shoebox full of receipts and here’s my receipt.’ Then we’re going to have cause to go back and ask, ‘Do we have a problem with that data file?'”

At this point, however, the city and the law firm believe the information to be accurate. Sutter indicated the moral of the story is, if you have a ticket, pay it, because it can come back to bite you 25 years later.

On Monday, ABC-7 received notices from the law firm for unpaid parking citations for station vehicles dating back as far as 2007 and totaling nearly $650.

ABC-7 has also received numerous emails and calls from El Pasoans who have received the notices. The notices urge you to make payment within 10 days of receiving.

Perez said non-payment of warrant fees will not keep you from being able to renew your driver’s license or registration. However, non-payment of citations could prevent you from getting those renewals.

When asked why several people who received notices for old citations have been able to continue renewing their driver’s licenses and registration, Perez told ABC-7 she was not sure why that was the case and would have to research those accounts.

You can research the citations and/or pay online on the city’s municipal court web site. You can also contact the law firm to set up payment plans or file a dispute, which would require a receipt.

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