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NYC Man Fined $2,000 For Taking Discarded Garbage

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NYC Man Fined $2,000 For Taking Discarded Garbage

City Sending Message To Anyone Slowing Recycling Machine

NEW YORK (CBS) ― It's something nearly everyone's been tempted to do at least once. You see someone else's throwaways on street and think -- that would look nice in my place.

But as CBS 2 HD found out taking it could end up costing you big-time.

"As far as I knew it was a piece of garbage sitting on the curb," Paul Lawrence said.

But what Lawrence didn't know when he decided to pick up a discarded air conditioner sitting on the sidewalk in Middle Village, Queens is that once trash hits the curb, it's technically city property.

And he was breaking the law.

"There was a lady here. I asked the lady can I take the air conditioner. She said go ahead take it. It's garbage," Lawrence said.

But not only was he fined $2,000 by a sanitation officer who watched him do it, the car he was driving was impounded.

And its owner -- Lawrence's Aunt, 73-year-old Margaret Colavita, was also slapped with a $2,000 fine.

"I said what is this and she said well we have to serve you with this. You're the owner of the car and it says I gave him permission," Colavita said.

Department of Sanitation officials said it's not always illegal to pick up something from the street. It's only when you're driving a vehicle that the law gets triggered.

Recycling is a revenue source for the city and sanitation officials said the law was "designed to deter organized rings of recycling thefts" that cost the city more than $300,000 a year.

Shortly after the law went into effect in 2007 CBS 2 HD rode along as officers enforced it.

"As the commodity price goes up, theft of that commodity goes up," Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said.

Lawrence insisted he wasn't stealing, but agreed repeat criminals should be punished.

However, he said a $2,000 fine for a first-time offense is excessive.

CBS 2 HD took the issue to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Two thousand dollars is a pretty hefty fine and I don't know what law was broken," Bloomberg said.

Lawrence said he now knows all too well and plans to fight his fine in court.

Last year the sanitation department issued 280 summonses for breaking the law and impounded 136 vehicles.

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