Free ride over after driver busted for $25,000 in unpaid tolls

By Kimberely Lennard, Land Line staff writer | 8/30/2012

The free ride is over for a Queens, NY, driver who owes in excess of $25,000 in tolls, fines and fees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Ben McClellan, 46, was hauling lumber was pulled over at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday after Officer Edward Benenati followed him to the toll plaza at the Goethals Bridge and through the E-ZPass lane. Benenati then pulled the driver over on east Interstate 278 in Staten Island, according to Al Della Fave, spokesman for the port authority.

The license plate on the front of the truck had been altered with electrical tape, changing the “7” to a “Z” and changing the “6” to an “8” and the rear plate registration had expired. Della Fave said the driver had a suspended license for failure to appear in New York court on a past traffic violation.

An E-ZPass transponder was in the truck, but it didn’t work. The driver told the officer he bought it at a gas station in Queens for $150.

E-ZPass officials had been aware of the driver’s activities. They told the port authority the transponder belonged to a Flushing, NY, company that discovered it missing in April 2011 and reported it stolen in November. In November, the transponder was deactivated, but was still being used by the Queens driver. It is unknown whether there is a connection between the driver and the company that owned the transponder.

The Queens driver is no stranger to port police. The port authority referred to him as a “habitual offender.” Della Fave told Land Line that Officer Benenati had arrested the driver at least once in the past and issued him a summons. On Tuesday, he was charged with obstruction of justice and theft of service, aggravated unlicensed operator, obstructed license plate, false statement, altered records and an expired registration.

Della Fave said the port authority has taken a stance. “It is sending a message that we won’t allow these individuals to take a free ride on the backs of other individuals who are paying.” He added he has heard a lot of folks are now heading to the Tappan Zee Bridge.

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