New York City recently seized 46 ice cream trucks for racking up $4.5 million in parking fines since 2009 and engaging in a scam to avoid paying.

The city seized the vehicles as part of “Operation Meltdown” after it was discovered the small group of companies created shell organizations to avoid paying the fines, according to a press release from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.

“The owners amassed the debt through a scheme, creating dozens of ‘shell’ companies to avoid enforcement efforts by the Department of Finance,” the press release said. “Between 2009 and 2017, a small group of individuals operated companies that accrued 22,000 summonses for violations, including running red lights, parking near fire hydrants, and blocking pedestrian crosswalks, according to the City’s complaint.”

The city filed a lawsuit against the “worst offenders,” who had amassed more than $10,000 in fines. To avoid paying the fines, the city said, the owners would periodically re-register the ice cream trucks under different company names.

“The collection division of the Department of Finance attempted to collect this debt through traditional means of demand notices and information subpoenas to banks, but was unsuccessful,” the statement said. “The Department found the debtors never had bank accounts, and any trace information to the corporate defendants no longer existed by the time the Department attempted to reach them.”

De Blasio in response to the seizure that “No New Yorker is above the law – especially those who try to ignore public safety laws and create dangerous situations for pedestrians, bikers and drivers.” He added that the seizure “marks the end of the road for these scofflaw ice cream vendors.”

The New York Post reported that one of the people named in the lawsuit was New York Ice Cream founder Dimitrios Tsirkos, “whose Long Island City company has been locked in a bitter turf war with Mister Softee.”

“Tsirkos and his crew run 76 treat-mobiles that owe a combined $4.5 million for 22,495 unpaid summonses racked up between 2009 and 2017,” the outlet reported from the lawsuit. The Post also reported that other names and companies listed in the lawsuit were under the “control” of Tsirkos.

“The complaint — which also names Athanasios Fotinakopoulos, Hele ‘Eleni’ Fotinakopoulos, Tommy Dalageorgos, Michael A. Vasiadis and Antonio Tsatsaros as company honchos — lists nearly 100 shell companies with names such as Ice Boyz Inc., Softee Taste Corp., Meathead Inc. and D.L.T. Softex Corp., all of which Tsirkos ‘controls,’” the outlet reported.

“We all know from common experience that ice cream trucks are magnets for children. In order to protect this particularly vulnerable category of pedestrians, our traffic laws must be strictly enforced,” said Zachary W. Cart, NYC’s corporation counsel. “The City’s investigation has untangled this web of fraudulent transactions and the Court has allowed us to take an initial step towards recovering the money owed to the City, with interest, and damages, and to permanently enjoin Defendants from again putting profit over public safety.”

The Post added that city officials declined to say whether the individuals named in the lawsuit would also face criminal charges.

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