New York City sting targets scofflaw ice cream vendors

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Fewer ice cream trucks may be delighting kids in Manhattan this summer following New York City’s seizure of dozens of popsicle-peddling vehicles in a sting operation dubbed “Operation Meltdown.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on Wednesday began towing away 46 trucks from operators who city officials claim owe a total of $4.5 million in fines for some 22,500 unpaid parking and traffic tickets. The alleged violations took place between 2009 and 2017, and include running red lights, parking near fire hydrants and blocking pedestrian crosswalks. 

“For years, these owners have ignored public safety laws and have driven dangerously in one of the busiest areas of the city,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This seizure marks the end of the road for these scofflaw ice cream vendors.” The mayor is among the Democrats running for president

An investigation “untangled this web of fraudulent transactions and the court has allowed us to take an initial step towards recovering the money owed,” Zachary Carter, the city’s corporation counsel, stated. 

Shell game

Owners of the 46 ice cream trucks created dozens of “shell” companies to avoid enforcement efforts, with participants transferring ownership of the vehicles around to shield them from seizure, according to a civil complaint filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. It detailed how truck operators continually re-registered their trucks under ever-changing companies. 

Unlike in less urban areas, where ice cream trucks can easily find customers by driving to parks or ball fields, those operating in Midtown Manhattan must contend with severe traffic congestion and strict parking rules. As a result, ice cream purveyors and other food trucks routinely park illegally in the city, where legal spots can be nearly impossible to find and tickets seen as just another cost of doing business.

There are as many as 20,000 street vendors in New York City, selling hot dogs, flowers and food from trucks, according to the Street Vendor Project, part of the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit that advocates for marginalized New Yorkers. The group has unsuccessfully lobbied the city to let food trucks park in commercial areas, or to assign allowable places for food trucks to park. 

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