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3 Westmoreland truckers charged in EZPass ripoff

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 2:04 p.m.

Three Westmoreland County truck drivers are facing numerous criminal charges for avoiding more than $23,400 in Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls over a 15-month period by allegedly utilizing a stolen EZPass and altering license plate numbers on a rig.

John Owen McGill, 43, and John D. McNally, 54, both of Alverton, and Paul D. DeHaven, 63, of Mt. Pleasant, are charged by state police with theft of services, criminal conspiracy, altering, forging and counterfeiting plates that began in June 2012 continued through September.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by state police Cpl. Charles Seilhamer of the New Stanton Turnpike station before Scottdale District Judge Charles Moore, police used drivers' log books confiscated from a green, 2008 Peterbilt truck tractor that is owned by McGill last fall to identify who was driving the truck when it repeatedly avoided the tolls.

Seilhamer reported in the affidavits that turnpike security officials began noticing in security films in October 2012 a Peterbilt truck tractor with a Pennsylvania registration plate driving through EZPass lanes “with an altered and/or partially covered license plate.”

Seilhamer said the last two digits of the plate were covered with a series of numbers attached by Velcro that covered the actual registration numbers.

He said the numbers appeared to be cut from other license plates.

“The ficticious numbers are similar in size and type as other Pennsylvania registration plates. I believed the fictitious numbers to be affixed with small Velcro squares which were captured by camera on the front of the license plate on occasions when the plate was not altered,” Seilhamer wrote.

He said the investigation disclosed the altered plate was utilized 49 times.

On Jan. 17, 2013, Seilhamer conducted a traffic stop of the suspected truck near the Donegal interchange “at which time I observed the four small pieces of Velcro affixed to the truck and trailer license plates. Seilhamer reported the truck and trailer were seized at that time.

Last July, police subsequently received a report of a stolen EZPass transponder registered under UPS being used 297 different times. The truck utilizing the allegedly stolen EZPass also was registered to McGill, Seilhamer wrote in the affidvit.

Seilhamer noted in the report that McGill's firm also owns an EZPass.

McGill of Owen McGill Farm Equipment said he had “no comment” on the charges when reached by telephone recently. Neither McNally or DeHaven could be reached for comment.

Court documents indicate all three men have retained Pittsburgh attorney Michael DeRiso to represent them at the preliminary hearing scheduled March 5 before Moore. DeRiso did not return a recent telephone inquiry seeking comment.

Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo the number of motorists avoiding tolls “is very low... I'd say less than one percent.”

DeFebo said most people who bypass turnpike tolls do so by error.

“Most simply wrongly get into the EZPass lane, (where there are no toll takers), and are not purposely dodging tolls,” he said.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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