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Archie Ingersoll, Published March 16 2014

Bogus permits get parkers at NDSU in a lot of trouble

FARGO – Shelling out money for a North Dakota State University parking permit has become an annual ritual for many. But every year, at least a handful of schemers are caught trying to game the system by altering, duplicating or completely fabricating permits.

Some of the phony permits are rudimentary, incorporating whiteout or Scotch tape, while others are more sophisticated, the products of high-tech printers.

The university’s parking enforcers, who spend their days peering through windshields inspecting permits hanging from rear-view mirrors, are skilled at spotting fakes, NDSU Police Chief Bill Vandal said.

“When you look at one after another after another, the ones that are altered usually pop out at you right away,” he said, adding that the giveaways of many bogus permits are peeling edges or discoloration caused by weathering over time.

Vandal said in his 20 years on campus, he’s seen forged permits every year. He once found one drawn with crayon.

“I was kind of hoping it was a joke,” he said.

When parking enforcers find a fake, altered or duplicated permit, NDSU police are notified. An officer will leave a note asking the driver to contact police, and an investigation ensues.

Misdemeanor theft

Because a parking permit costs $185, using a fake one is considered a theft of services and is classified as a misdemeanor. If it’s a first-time offense, the penalty is often a $300 fine and a deferred imposition of sentence, which means the misdemeanor is wiped from the fake permit holder’s record after a year of staying out of trouble, city prosecutor Jason Loos said.

Anyone who’s tried to park at NDSU knows that spots are tough to find. In recent years, construction on campus and growth in enrollment has made for a somewhat tighter parking situation, said Pete Zimmerman, associate director of facilities operations.

NDSU, a school with more than 14,000 students and about 2,000 employees, has close to 8,000 parking spots. Because all the spots are not used at the same time, the university oversells parking permits, especially those for commuter students, who have varied class schedules, Zimmerman said. The university sold about 10,000 parking permits this school year, he said.

Permits allow students to park in designated areas and employees to park in specific lots, Zimmerman said. A few of those who buy permits will alter them so they can park in a more desirable lot, and some will make a fake sticker in an attempt to show that the permit has been renewed.

‘Surprised it worked’

Each year, NDSU police deal with about five to eight fake permits, Vandal said. So far in 2014, there have been at least three discovered, police records show.

In two of those cases, NDSU employees who had paid for permits were caught with duplicated permits they were using in a spouse’s car. Police reports were made in both instances, but criminal charges were not filed.

In such cases, when someone buys a permit and alters or duplicates it, the matter is usually handled by university officials, and the punishment can include a suspension of parking privileges, Vandal said.

“But if they’ve never paid for the parking privilege, and it’s a complete fabrication, then we would charge them with theft of services,” the chief said.

Last week, parking enforcers found one of these completely fabricated permits in the SF Lot next to Stockbridge Hall, and NDSU police tracked down the driver of the car, according to a police report. It turned out to be a student, and he was charged with misdemeanor theft. His case is still pending.

The student told police he borrowed a friend’s permit, scanned it and printed a copy on his printer in his dorm room. He said he initially made the permit for friends visiting campus, but that he eventually started using it for his own car because he could not afford a permit, the report stated.

“I am surprised it worked for this long,” the student told police.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734