WASHINGTON - D.C. resident Tanya M. Topolewski expected to receive a refund check for $500 last month.
Instead, she received $300, along with a letter stating the rest was being withheld for a "DMV offset" -- an unpaid ticket.
After WTOP looked into Topolewski's story, the ticket turned out to be written in 2002 for a vehicle and license plate that she says don't belong to her.
"I was completely dumbfounded and knew nothing about the ticket at all," Topolewski says. "It was completely a shock and I was appalled, so then I sent this story out to the Listservs and WTOP as well and discovered I'm not at all alone."
When Topolewski received the letter on Sept. 11, 2013, she immediately called the two D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles phone numbers listed: 202-737-4404 and 311.
She tried again. Still nothing.
Days later, still nothing.
"I couldn't get a live person on the phone to tell me anything about this ticket. And then I just got completely frustrated over a couple days," she says. "I tried several times with each of these numbers and got nowhere. There's just nowhere to go to get any kind of feedback except for actually going down there and trying to get face to face with somebody.
"And that is unfair."
She's not the only one to make such a complaint. At a D.C. Council committee hearing earlier this month, driver Jocelyn Johnson told WTOP that talking to the DMV was like talking to a brick wall.
Topolewski calls it "getting stuck in DMV recording hell."
She eventually learned about WTOP TicketBuster through a D.C. neighborhood Listserv and contacted both WTOP and D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, D-Ward 4, who represents where Topolewski lives.
WTOP reached the DMV and got a copy of ticket No. 981515684. A D.C. police officer in the Third District wrote the ticket on Dec. 2, 2002, for expired tags. The ticket doesn't list Topolewski's name, and she doesn't own the listed Ford pickup with D.C. tags BF4432.
DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton says Topolewski will get a refund for the $200 taken out of her taxes, which should arrive in eight to 10 weeks.
However, WTOP and ABC7 have learned driver Christen Eliason, who was supposed to get a refund after a joint investigation showed confusion over ParkMobile zoning, didn't receive a check in time.
The D.C. Department of Public Works told WTOP and ABC7 that they forgot to void the ticket to start the refund process, forcing Eliason to wait an additional eight to 10 weeks.
There are still several outstanding questions to Topolewski's story:
- How did a ticket from 2002 for a license plate that does not resemble
Topolewski's tags ever get linked to her in 2013?
- Was it a computer error?
- Did someone make an error?
WTOP asked Newton these questions, but by the time this story was published Friday morning, she hadn't returned calls or emails for comment to those or other questions about Topolewski's case.
"Who pressed what button to make it literally come out of the grave and then attach itself to my current registration?" Topolewski says. "I have no idea. I would like to know. But I probably will never get that answer."
She also believes her poor customer service experience with the DMV is indicative of others she's had in the city she's called home for years.
"Honestly, I've been through the gristmill for a variety of other things with the District of Columbia and this is so par for the course with them," she says. "It was so unbelievably frustrating. The whole situation is a sad state of affairs, when things cannot be made smooth enough with the wheels of the District of Columbia to do business well."
Topolewski has communicated those concerns to Bowser and hopes other members of the D.C. Council will listen to her as well.
If you think you're the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case - along with documentation - to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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