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Tollway worker charged in theft
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Uganda T. Harris

 

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Published: 10/16/2008 12:09 PM

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A state tollway employee remained in jail late Wednesday after being accused of stealing cash fines she collected from motorists who were nabbed skirting tolls.

Uganda T. Harris, 32, of Bellwood was ordered held on a $75,000 bond after appearing earlier in the day in DuPage County court. She is charged with felony theft.

Harris was hired as an Illinois State Toll Highway Authority customer service representative June 19, 2007. She worked out of the Downers Grove headquarters and several oasis locations.

Harris was arrested Tuesday after authorities said she pocketed about $900 of a $961.50 fine that an Illinois State Police trooper made while posing as a customer during an undercover sting operation. Authorities captured the transaction on videotape.

"She is seen on video putting the money into her purse," prosecutor Brooks Locke said in bond court. "They're still investigating how long this was going on and the amount that was stolen."

Harris, a union employee, has been suspended pending further investigation.

Joelle McGinnis, a tollway authority spokeswoman, said Wednesday an internal investigation began months before the arrest when staff noticed some anomalies with Harris' service and brought those concerns to their inspector general's office, which kept Harris under surveillance and even collected affidavits from customers about how much they paid.

Illinois State Police officials were brought in for Tuesday's sting operation.

Harris is accused of improperly classifying the fines she collected as coming from I-PASS users - who pay for missed tolls and are not subject to large fines - then pocketing the extra cash.

"The customers were not shortchanged nor do they owe the tollway authority any money," McGinnis said.

She said the tollway authority will be seeking restitution from Harris in court.

Meanwhile, Harris must post the required 10 percent or $7,500 cash to be released on bail.