SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - Most people have received a parking ticket at one time or another, but have you ever been fined for picking-up garbage? A furloughed Food & Drug Administration worker is $100 poorer because of a little known Montgomery County ordinance that targets those who seek scrap metal.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Colby Prevost was driving along the the 1300 block of Dennis Ave., near Sligo Middle Scholl. The 41-year-old spotted four kid's bikes a tree lawn, clearly placed there to be thrown away. Prevost thought one would be a perfect for his two-year-old son.
The longtime Rockville resident put two of the bicycles in the bed of his Ford F-150 - planning to use the second bike for spare parts. Little did he know an environmental protection inspector - one of 12 in Montgomery County - was parked directly across the street, eying his every move.
"I didn't see her at first, but she was sitting in the parking lot there. She then drove toward me and said, 'Can I see your license,'" Prevost recalled.
It was only a matter of minutes before Prevost received a $100 fine for a rule he didn't know existed - payable in full by Oct. 29.
"I'd never heard of this, most of my friends had never heard of this, my parents had never heard or this. So we were all very shocked - very shocked," Prevost said.
Despite making $1.1 million a year on scrap metal - $100,000 of which comes from curb-side pick-up - Montgomery County says its ordinance is primarily in place to prevent identity theft. County spokesman Patrick Lacefield says criminals have been known to sift through recycling bins to find financial paperwork like bank account and credit cards statements.
"I understand that this person feels like they shouldn't have been fined for this, but the fact is we do have inspectors that go around and see these sorts of things happen," Lacefield remarked.
So far this year, Montgomery County inspectors have handed-out 92 scrap metal tickets, netting at least $9,200 in fines. Figures for previous years dating back to 1990 when the ordinance was enacted weren't readily available, but said to be similar.
"Our inspectors have a huge amount of work that they do day-in and day-out, and this is only a tiny part of it," Lacefield added.
Prevost however disagrees, saying the county ticketed at least half-a-dozen people along Dennis Ave. last Tuesday alone, calling it a "sting operation." Although paper records were not provided to ABC 7 News, the county claims no "sting" took place, insisting only two residents were fined - Prevost being one of them.
"When you see stories like this, you kind of say, 'They're not out here for me, they're not here to help me, they're here to punish me.' I don't think that's what they're intending to do, but that's the consequence of it," Prevost concluded.
Prevost plans to appeal his citation in court on Oct. 29. When asked if the county would waive his citation and save the furloughed worker the time and energy of the appeal process, Lacefield said county government 'Can't differentiate between one case and another.'"
So how can you prevent scrap metal ticketing in Montgomery County?
Homeowners should decide whether to donate the goods to Montgomery County's scrap metal recycling program or stand-alone garbage pickers.
If a homeowners picks the latter, do not call the county for a pick-up. Instead, place items near the curb and clearly label them as "free."
Should a garbage picker have any question about items near the curb, knock on the front door of the house to ask if the items are fair game, free from fines.