Judge Throws Out $4,000 Fine For Picking Up Free Air-Conditioner

Yesterday, we wrote about a New York City woman whose car was impounded and who was fined thousands of dollars after her nephew used her car to — horror of horrors — pick up an abandoned air-conditioner from a city curb. Good news: Both she and her nephew have had the ridiculous fines erased.

The 73-year-old woman’s case was thrown out by a judge yesterday afternoon, meaning she won’t have to pony up $4,000 for having allowed her nephew to use her car.

After getting the good news, she said:

Thank God justice was served… I’m happy the judge did the right thing, but who do I talk to about getting all my wasted time back?

The city should be ashamed of itself for putting a 73-year-old woman with a heart condition through such stress.

Her nephew was also cleared of having to pay the fines after a short hearing before the city’s Environmental Control Board.

Speaking to the judge in the aunt’s case, the Sanitation Dept. officer who busted the man for stealing garbage said he was only doing his job: “My job was to sit and watch and conduct surveillance to see if anyone would come out to take it unauthorized.”

The nephew’s reaction to that statement sums up our thoughts pretty well:

Our city is going bankrupt and we are using our tax dollars to pay these guys to stare at appliances all day… How do I get a job like that?

Judge throws out $4,000 in fines against family cited for taking abandoned AC unit [Daily News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. billbillbillbill says:

    “My job was to sit and watch and conduct surveillance to see if anyone would come out to take it unauthorized.”

    Wow, not much more I can say than that. Thank goodness I live in small town USA that prides itself on small government and a balanced budget.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      And where everyone knows everyone’s business, and you have to drive 45 minutes to get to anything resembling civilization, and you get run out of town on a rail if you’re even slightly to the left of Beck and co…

      I’ll put up with some governing if it means I don’t have to put up with that bullshit.

      • OnePumpChump says:

        And while in absolute terms, corruption in NYC may be grander, in relation to population and incomes, it doesn’t hold a candle to small towns.

      • WhoLikesPie? says:

        You do such a wonderful job at generalizing the rural populous of our fine nation. I really think the rural areas should be cleansed so fine people like you can move in and bring your civilization to the savages. Spot on good sir.

        How about next time instead of bashing someone for where they live and making mass generalizations, comment instead upon the content of their post or the article at hand. While you’re at it… try walking over to a street corner and shoving down some elderly… that’s the spirit!

        • enad58 says:

          I live in a rural area in smalltown, WI. He hit the nail on the head. Stereotypes are rooted in truth.

        • Billy says:

          He WAS commenting on the post. Specifically, he was countering the statement, “Thank goodness I live in small town USA that prides itself on small government and a balanced budget.”

          I hate to be pedantic about it, but he was pointing out that even with small government and balanced budget, there are problems in small towns that are much worse.

        • JennQPublic says:

          “How about next time instead of bashing someone for where they live and making mass generalizations…”

          Wasn’t the post he was responding to doing EXACTLY that, insinuating that more populous areas do not pride themselves on small government and balanced budgets?

      • TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

        Sorry, but I live in a small (10,000 pop) town in Oregon. There is a diverse populatiob both racially, and politically. Steriotypes often fit a minority, but I am sure there are quite a few towns in the Midwest and South that fit this one.

        • ktetch says:

          Thats not a small town :-p

          Thats about the size of the town I lived in when I first moved to the US. About 4 years ago, I moved to another town, pop 3000 (was the main location used for My Cousin Vinny) and 2.5 years ago, I moved to he other town in the county, pop 260. THAT is a small town.

          • Keavy_Rain says:

            When I drove from Sacramento to Reno about fifteen years ago, I saw a town with a population of five. BEAT THAT!

    • kmw2 says:

      If you live in a small town, you only need a small government and you can only have a small budget. No virtue there.

    • montusama says:

      I don’t think NYC can run like small towns. From what I know about the city government its like 6 governments running the entire city. One for each borough and another one for the entire city itself. Between the amount of people living there, the area of the city and everything else, you’re going to end up with some “wasteful” spending.

      Governments grow with the demand and they don’t really grow efficiently.

      Of course this could be all wrong.

    • Dondegroovily says:

      It’s probably just part of his job. I imagine he’s probably a security watch, meaning he’s mostly watching for trouble-making bums and drug dealers.

      • MauriceCallidice says:

        He’s a Sanitation Dept. officer. A trash cop. I don’t think he’s prowling the mean streets looking for drug dealers.

      • Villnius says:

        Maybe not. In most municipalities in Ontario, Canada, there are bylaws in place against “stealing” recyclables. A home owner can give his trash or recyclables to anyone he wants, but once it’s out on the curb, it’s property of the city.

        Metal recycling generates a HUGE amount of revenue for many cities. Since it helps offset the cost of running waste and recycling programs, that’s a major plus if you don’t want to piss people off by raising their taxes.

        Toronto saw a huge dip in metal recycling revenues a few years back, when the price of steel, copper, and to an extent, aluminum spiked. Trash scavengers were pulling up from home to home to root through the trash for anything made of metal to sell to scrap dealers. They’d leave the rest of the stuff strewn on the front lawn when they left, and the city lost millions.

        I guess trash scavenging was a big problem for this city too,

    • working class Zer0 says:

      “My job was to sit and watch and conduct surveillance to see if anyone would come out to take it unauthorized.”

      The judge then sentenced the sanitation worker to a mild to moderate bitch slapping for not having the common sense to realize that somone just desperately wanted an air conditioner.

  2. Hoss says:

    So I was right, it was a sting. What a great country

  3. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I think it’s nutty that a city can claim a property interest in something that has been abandoned.

    • Conformist138 says:

      In a lot of cities (like mine, go Portland!), garbage is considered PUBLIC property, not just government property. So, finders-keepers if something is legitimately tossed out. We might not bring in fines for busting old aunties and their AC-hauling nephews, but we also don’t have people paid to conduct stings on broken appliances. In fact, I bet we save money by not really needing as many people for removing odd or large items at all. Just move your thing to the curb, put an ad on craigslist, and watch it vanish in 5 minutes. It’s a great example of citizens taking care of our own messes for free with no interference; only truly worthless items need to be hauled off by sanitation workers.

      I love when so much effort is put into protecting/controlling something, it makes the benefits seem utterly pointless.

    • vastrightwing says:

      Oh how about the bottle deposit tax. This is not about keeping bottles off the street. It’s about keeping the $0.05 deposits that are never claimed. Recycling is about towns keeping the money they get from turning in the plastic and glass. Red light cameras, seat belt laws, etc., are all about the money they collect, not about safety. In short, most about what cities and towns do is about collecting money, less about safety and providing value to its denizens. This is nothing more than yet another example of your local officials dreaming up new revenue streams. Stay tuned!

  4. FreshPorcupineSalad says:

    So they set up a sting to see who would take a thrown out AC unit? Like for real?

    • Rachacha says:

      With a $4000 fine it would be more profitable than drug or prostitution stings.

      • Conformist138 says:

        A man could shoot up and then go ride a hooker bareback in a park and potentially get off with a lesser fine than a man who asks nicely to take a bit of garbage blighting up the street. A piece of garbage that was not hauled away by sanitation workers, but instead fiercely guarded by one!

        And more people in prison are there for non-violent drug convictions than just about anything else, many for shit like having or selling pot. Weed and abandoned garbage: the calling cards of only the most dangerous predators in society!

        *headdesk* humans are particularly stupid monkeys.

        • ej84 says:

          and this was the best example you could come up with for something that costs less than $4,000?

      • vastrightwing says:

        They really need to consider lowering the fine to about $150 so people don’t go to court and fight this. On the other hand, maybe they already did a study and determined that more people will simply pay the fine than fight it.

  5. pantheonoutcast says:

    “My job was to sit and watch and conduct surveillance to see if anyone would come out to take it unauthorized.”

    Keep in mind, that this man also has a boss whose job it is to supervise his activities. And so on.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes quisquiliarum?

  6. Brent says:

    I hope the family files a civil lawsuit now.

    • Skankingmike says:

      against who?

    • outoftheblew says:

      For what damages?

      • Brent says:

        Well, for starters, the family’s car was towed. They must be repaid any money they had to spend defending themselves. They must be paid any money they spent getting their car back. They must be compensated for the time lost defending themselves. They must be compensated for the suffering inflicted on them by an out-of-control city government that wanted to bleed them of thousands of dollars. They deserve damages.

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

      You know, that is not at all constructive. You hope they sue the city? Who pays for the lawsuit? The taxpayers, that’s who.

      A major problem with our economy is it’s litigious nature. Everyone sues everyone because no one will take responsibility for anything. Our society has been conditioned to be unapologetic because of liability.

      Did the city screw up? Yeah, they did, but suing them now that it has been resolved in court is what’s known as gratuitous.

      On the other hand, maybe the cities many voters and other departments should investigate how their money is being spent. That would be a good use of money, instead of “trash stings.”

  7. Murph1908 says:

    It’s probably a union job. Good luck eliminating it.

  8. rpm773 says:

    ..but who do I talk to about getting all my wasted time back?

    Your councilman, via ballot, next election day.

  9. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Amen. Thank God justice prevailed.

  10. dreamfish says:

    The question is: will the city be chastened enough by this judgement to drop their taking-abandoned-items-is-stealing policy?

    • vastrightwing says:

      Only when it’s not economical for the city. Then they will stop enforcing the law, yet the law will remain forever.

  11. sirwired says:

    On the surface, the policy makes sense. To help pay for garbage pickup, the city recycles valuable recyclable materials, mainly scrap metals. If others “poach” the scrap metal (leaving the garbage behind), the cost of garbage pickup goes up, hence the “property interest” rule. It even makes sense to pay somebody to enforce this rule, as those metals can be quite valuable.

    However, the law is meant to deter mass-collections/theft of scrap metal. It is NOT meant to prevent people from doing their own home-grown recycling of fixable items, which is why the fine was thrown out.

    • nybiker says:

      I hope that the neighbor that left the a/c out had already called to make an appointment with the city to have the freon removed. I
      Also, if he had just carried it away (i.e., not used a vehicle) there wouldn’t have been a fine.
      From the article: “Under city law, once a resident puts out an AC unit or other large recyclable appliance for pickup, it’s illegal for someone to use a vehicle to haul it away. Colavita was issued half the fine because Lawrence used her car.”

    • trellis23 says:

      I’m interested to know if it had a “freon removed” sticker on it? Because, at least in MA, if it didn’t you can’t dispose of it, meaning the city would have never picked it up, meaning it’s not the city’s property. If it did have the sticker, why did the guy want it in the first place, it would probably be more to fix and replace the freon than buy new.

      • nybiker says:

        Yeah, that’s what I was getting at too. No freon, how on earth does the thing work then?

  12. jeffjohnvol says:

    What if the owner took it back inside? would she get a fine. State/government workers can be so idiotic.

    • Sandstar says:

      No, because you have to use a motor vehicle in order to break the law. So as long as the homeowner brought it in without using a car, they’d be fine.

  13. drburk says:

    I’m going to go with this is a waste of tax payer money. I’m a fan of recycling but i’m not sure that NYC is actually making money. I’m sure this guy earns over $250 a day to sit on his but and watch litter (it’s litter if it’s trash which is put out but not to be picked up by the trash truck). I’m not sure they ‘lost’ more than that when the AC was stolen.

  14. common_sense84 says:

    Since when has garbage stopped being public domain. Any garbage random people pick up is garbage the city doesn’t have to spend money on picking up.

  15. dolemite says:

    So the guy gets paid to sit there all day and make sure no one took it. If the city really needed it for recycling, how about he got off his ass and picked it up and took it off?

  16. EtherealFlame says:

    “My job was to sit and watch and conduct surveillance to see if anyone would come out to take it unauthorized.”

    So it was a sting operation to entrap unsuspecting people, knowing damn well someone would take it and have to tally up those fines. All the while the drug dealer a block over was standing there laughing as they were getting written up. Loverly.

    • dreamfish says:

      Aren’t there protections in the US against ‘entrapment’?

      • ktetch says:


        Entrapment requires that the subject be directly induced to commit the crime that he would not otherwise have done. If the guy has walked up tot he old woman, and asked if she could help him take it, THEN it would be entrapment. just leaving it there would not.

  17. johnrhoward says:

    I know it makes a better story to mention that the woman is old and has a heart condition, but the implication then is that it would have been ok if she hadn’t been old and/ore hadn’t had a heart condition, which is wouldn’t have been.

  18. Kevinsky says:

    And this not a month after Lifehacker posted up an article about furnishing a two-room apartment with cast-offs found on the road side!

    two questions;
    Is it considered stealing garbage if the owner put a sign on it that said “Free A/C unit, works, a bit noisy”?

    Did he get to keep the A/C unit?

  19. laffmakr says:

    The judge should now issue a warrant for the city employee who issued the fine. He should have to work without pay until it equals $4000.

  20. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    As a former sanitation engineer (garbageman) I find it ludicrous they have full-time “sanitation cops” with the power to pull people over and issue tickets for breaking these bizarre laws. The defendants even asked the owners if they could take it. Do these guys have Tazers and guns? Have they been properly trained in PIT maneuvers? Do they have a SWAT equivalent if the granny refuses to cooperate or do they just use normal tactics or do they tazer-torture her.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      … or do they tazer-torture her.

    • Mr. TheShack says:

      It is important for governments to basically deputize as many middle to lower class citizens as possible. When you have so many power-tripping working people, it is easy to reap profits and make sane people look crazy. This ruling was a powerful stroke of justice. There is an old saying my teacher once told me: “Corruption makes justice look like insanity”. When the status quo believe something because it is drilled into them from birth, they never question it. Obey, or men with guns and authority will punish you. Rat out your neighbor, and you get a treat! Good dog. Sit.

  21. tanyaandkarl says:

    Appliance Day

    These people could save a lot of money by just applying a little common sense (yes, I know, common sense isn’t.)

    My town (and a lot of others I know) have once or twice a year a “large trash day” or “appliance day”.
    This is the day where you take all that stuff and put it out by the curb, then they send out the BIG trucks to pick it up.

    People usually put out there stuff a couple of days early, and even write on it “works” if it does.
    And everyone drives around picking up everyone else’s junk.

    Whatever’s left the trash truck gets a couple days later.
    With out the preceding junk-exchange, the city would have to pay for a lot more trash trucks.

  22. MishunAcomplisht says:

    Perhaps this was some new type of FEE to raise funds for the city? The stealing trash fee?

  23. Mr. TheShack says:

    It isn’t enough to have our government illegally spying on us. Our own working class man is more than happy to run and tell to big brother when someone breaks the jail-house rules. “Help! Help! Police, he took some junk to reuse and put it in his *CAR*! Oh the humanity!”

    We as people should be helping each other. Everyone is always so quick to run barking to master when a dog biscuit is the reward.

  24. giantspbpk says:

    (can’t resist) Was the cop watching from the front window of a Dunkin Donuts?

  25. shepd says:

    I want everyone with a heart condition to wear a shirt “I HAVE A HEART CONDITION AND YOU’RE KILLING ME”.

  26. Mr Fife says:

    Yet another stupid law made by stupid people.