The operators have allegedly avoided nearly $4.5 million in fines since 2009.

In a story likely to upset scores of kids across New York City, the city has seized 46 ice cream trucks. No, this isn’t a modern-day take on The Grinch where a frozen food fusser is set to ruin summer. It’s called Operation Meltdown, and it’s the city’s effort to rein in ice cream truck operators who’ve “consistently violated traffic safety laws and evaded nearly $4.5 million in fines since 2009,” according to a news release from New York City’s mayor's office.

The allegations point to an elaborate scheme that’s poised for a Hollywood adaptation in the same vein as Ford v Ferrari. According to the city, these ice cream truck owners have gone to great lengths to avoid responsibility for several violations ranging from running red lights, blocking pedestrians crosswalks, and parking near fire hydrants. The city says between 2009 and 2017, a small group of individuals incurred 22,000 summonses for those various violations. The owners avoided responsibility by creating “shell” companies to avoid the city’s Department of Finance’s enforcement efforts.

The ice cream truck operators are accused of reregistering their ice cream trucks under the names of various shell companies to the State of New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles. While the department attempted to collect the debts through traditional means, the department learned many of the operators never had bank accounts. The department did try to trace these companies; however, by the time they found them, the companies no longer existed.

Right now, the city is targeting offenders with $10,000 or more in judgments or unpaid fines, which means there are likely more slippery ice cream truck operators who’ve skirted accountability for various traffic violations. The idea of the city seizing ice cream trucks just before summer feels a bit like Footloose where an old curmudgeon bans ice cream. But this isn’t some vendetta against dancing and rock music – it’s about holding people accountable to the law for their actions. While this is a civil matter right now, there is the possibility of criminal charges later. 

Sources: New York City, Eyewitness News ABC7NY via YouTube

Hide press releaseShow press release

Operation Meltdown: De Blasio Administration Seizing 46 Ice Cream Trucks Involved in Shell Company Scam to Dodge $4.5 Million in Traffic Violations

NEW YORK –The de Blasio Administration today began seizing 46 ice cream trucks from operators who consistently violated traffic safety laws and evaded nearly $4.5 million in fines since 2009. The owners amassed the debt through a scheme, creating dozens of “shell” companies to avoid enforcement efforts by the Department of Finance. 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.

“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,” said Mayor de Blasio. “For years, these owners have ignored public safety laws and have driven dangerously in one of the busiest areas of the City. This seizure marks the end of the road for these scofflaw ice cream vendors.”

“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. As detailed in our complaint, Defendant owners of scores of ice cream trucks sought to evade enforcement of our traffic laws through an elaborate shell game transferring ownership of their ice cream trucks between and among dozens of phony companies, effectively shielding their trucks from fines and seizure,” said Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter. “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 Department of Finance seized dozens of ice cream trucks for failing to pay their parking tickets and for engaging in an alleged systematic scheme to defraud the City of over $4.5 million dollars,” said Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha. “We commend the diligent investigation by our Office of Legal Affairs and Sheriff’s Department in taking steps to preserve public safety. The Department of Finance stands ready to ensure compliance with the law through the successful enforcement of the Supreme Court’s Order.”

The scheme was based off a periodic, systematic and repeated re-registration of the ice cream trucks with the State of New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles under the names of various shell corporations. 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 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.

The City’s lawsuit targets the worst offenders—those with more than $10,000 in judgments or unpaid fines. The order also requires the truck’s owners to pay the City damages and prevents them from transferring the ownership of the vehicles that have outstanding parking summonses.