For Immediate Release - March 24, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley Obtains Judgment for $18,500 Against Limousine Company for Allegedly Evading Fast Lane Toll Payments

BOSTON - Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office reached a settlement agreement with Newton Limousine, Inc. and its owner Mehdi Haoulani, to resolve allegations that Newton Limousine violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by using Fast Lane transponders for privately-owned vehicles instead of commercial transponders, thereby avoiding payment of higher commercial tolls. Under the terms of the consent judgment, the defendants will pay $7,000 in damages and civil penalties. If the defendants fail to make appropriate toll payments in the future, or otherwise violate any terms of the settlement, they may be required to pay an additional $11,500.

"Individuals and companies that egregiously abuse the Fast Lane program by misusing their transponder will be held accountable," said Attorney General Coakley "Under the terms of this settlement, Mr. Haoulani will have to repay double the amount of tolls he violated for skirting the law in addition to a penalty."

In February, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office filed lawsuits against Newton Limousine and two other companies for evading Fast Lane tolls by using personal or carpool transponders to avoid paying higher commercial tolls. The lawsuits, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, stem from an investigation by the Attorney General's Office and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) of individuals and companies who violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by abusing the Fast Lane toll program.

The lawsuits alleged that three businesses avoided paying higher commercial tolls by improperly using personal or carpool transponders. The Attorney General's lawsuit asserted that Medhi Haoulani's individual transponder was used 2,079 times by livery vehicles employed by Newton Limousine, Inc., located in Waltham, thereby avoiding $3,211.50 in tolls. In the other two cases, the Attorney General alleges that Everett-based Broadway Limousine used the carpool transponder registered to owner Tracy Mackin in two commercial vehicles 327 times in the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels to avoid paying $1,716.75 in tolls, and that Wakefield-based Northeastern Limousine used the personal transponder of its owner, Yahia Karabadji, 1,628 times avoiding $2,075.75 in tolls. The cases against Broadway Limousine and Northeastern Limousine are still pending.

The Attorney General's Office is authorized to investigate and bring cases under the Massachusetts False Claims Act. This statute allows the Attorney General to bring claims to rectify harm to the Commonwealth, state authorities and municipalities whenever a potential defendant knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval, it also allows the Attorney General to recover monies spent as a result of false or misleading statements, and to collect penalties, fees and costs.

Last winter, the Attorney General's Office also entered into three settlements resulting in a recovery of approximately $ 8,000. These cases involved drivers who failed to keep enough funds in their accounts to cover their use of the Fast Lane tolls. In one instance, an individual used a transponder 318 times over the course of seven months despite receiving violation notices from MassDOT.

Assistant Attorney General Emily Armstrong and Legal Analyst Jeffrey Walker of Attorney General Coakley's Consumer Protection Division are handling this matter.