ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A group of men and women, ticketed for picking-up junk across Montgomery County, is questioning the method in which county employees enforce a little known ordinance.
In 1990, Montgomery County enacted a law which prevents anyone, other than those licensed by local government, from scavenging through recycling and trash piles at the end of a driveway or dumpster area. Only problem, few residents know the law is on the books.
However, documents obtained by ABC7 News show inspectors with the county's Department of Environmental Protection aren't afraid to distribute citations. From Jan. 2012 through Nov. 2013, Montgomery County issued more than 100 scrap metal violations. All combined, the tickets, which can cost $100, $150 or $500, deposited $17,450 in county coffers over the last two years.
Colby Prevost, 41, of Silver Spring was one of the unlucky 100 or so who got caught. His ticket came on October 8, while the Food & Drug Administration employee was furloughed during the Federal Government Shutdown.
"I was driving down Dennis Avenue and saw these perfectly good kid bikes and thought one would be perfect for my two-year-old son," Prevost recalled.
The lifelong Montgomery County resident stopped at a home in the 1300 block of Dennis Ave. and was loading two bicycles into the bed of his Ford F-150. Little did he know an environmental protection inspector, one of 12 in Montgomery County, was parked directly across the street.
"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 said.
Despite his pleading, the inspector, identified as KB Boyle, scribbled Prevost's infraction on a pad, and handed him a yellow $100 ticket.
At the time, a Montgomery County spokesman said the inspector had discovered the three bicycles in a nearby wooded area, and placed them at the base of the Dennis Avenue home's driveway to be picked-up by a county crew. While filing paperwork in an adjacent parking lot, that inspector had reportedly witnessed Prevost and another gentleman attempt to take the bicycles.
"You're saying this by no means was a sting," ABC7 reporter Kevin Lewis asked spokesman Patrick Lacefield in October. "No way. No way," Lacefield replied.
However, according to county ticket records, that doesn't appear to be true. On the October afternoon Prevost was ticketed, four others were also ticketed at the exact same address. The ticket time stamps range from 12:55 p.m. to 5:05 p.m.
"When the county hangs-out next to a pile of scrap metal, I call that a sting. I don't know what other word there is for it," Prevost said after reviewing the comprehensive list of citations.
What's more, records show on nine other occasions between Jan. 2012 and Nov. 2013, county inspectors ticketed multiple people at the exact same address over the span of a morning or afternoon.
"It just blows my mind that county employees have nothing better to do than ticket people for trying to reuse goods that otherwise would be thrown away or recycled," Prevost added.
Although Montgomery County refused to comment on-camera Friday about the new information that had come to light, County Executive Ike Leggett recently sent Prevost an apologetic email.
"Having taken a close look at the circumstances surrounding your ticket... I am instructing the Department of Environmental Protection void it. Moreover, I am instructing the department that, effective immediately, enforcement of this particular law should not be a high priority for DEP inspectors among the many other tasks they have to perform," Leggett wrote (read the full email below).
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. Lacefield says criminals have been known to sift through recycling bins to find financial paperwork like bank account and credit cards statements.
"I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Leggett. What I didn't appreciate was that his employees lied about the stings and tried to cover it up. I hope he deals with them," Prevost concluded.
In an email, Ike Leggett replies:
Dear Mr. Prevost,
Thank you for your email. It is timely.
I appreciate your feedback on Montgomery County's anti-scavenging law and I understand you are not happy to have received a ticket due to that law.
This law dates to the beginning of Montgomery County's extensive recycling program and curbside pickup of recyclables. The County - and residents - have an interest in preventing scavenging of items placed in the County right-of-way for scheduled pickups. That is true for paper (which in cases includes personal and confidential information), aluminum cans and glass bottles, and scrap metal. Scrap metal scavenging has, in fact, picked up as the price of such metal has skyrocketed. You may have read reports of thefts of copper tubing, metal fences, and even manhole covers. Montgomery County is among only a few counties that collect scrap metal to be recycled, rather than it simply being discarded as trash.
There is a reason why this law prohibiting the scavenging of recycled materials is on the books in the first place.
Having taken a close look at the circumstances surrounding your ticket, however, I am instructing the Department of Environmental Protection void it. Moreover, I am instructing the department that, effective immediately, enforcement of this particular law should not be a high priority for DEP inspectors among the many other tasks they have to perform.
I hope this information is helpful.
Ike LeggettCounty Executive