For a decade, Seattle Municipal Court Judge Fred Bonner has been paying a highly discounted parking rate at a city garage by saying he drove a three-person carpool.
But in the past three months, KIRO 7 watched as the judge drove to work by himself – in what appears to be a clear violation of city regulations.
The KIRO 7 investigation also showed there is apparently no system to prevent people from cheating the City of Seattle carpool program.
When asked by KIRO 7, Bonner said he last drove a carpool about two weeks ago. When told that KIRO 7 followed him on multiple days over a three-month period -- and watched him drive from home to work without picking up any passengers – Bonner said, “it may have been a little longer” that he had been driving without a carpool.
Bonner's parking savings because of his carpool status have been significant over the past decade, saving him at least $12,000. His current salary is about $150,000 annually.
While KIRO 7 followed Bonner on multiple days during a nearly three-month period, a source told KIRO 7 that Bonner hasn’t had a carpool for years.
“That is not true,” Bonner told KIRO 7.
So reporter Amy Clancy asked him to provide the names of the people he carpooled with.
“I cannot tell you that because – and I will not tell you that – because I consider that is privileged.”
But that information is not privileged for any employees who files carpool applications. Bonner also apparently did not fulfill the requirement to give names of his carpool members when he began getting the reduced rate in 2004, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, which is the only agency that can approve carpool status.
An SDOT spokesman said they have no record of Bonner ever providing his carpool names or any paperwork other than the form selecting the discounted rate. All of his carpool members were required to be City of Seattle employees.
KIRO 7 asked Bonner why he was seen driving by himself to work on multiple days over the last three months while paying the reduced carpool rate.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” he said.
Clancy told the judge that if he hadn’t driven anybody, he saved more than $12,000 at taxpayer expense with the carpool rate.
“Well I have driven individuals and you have not been following me for the last 10 years, so you can’t say that,” Bonner replied.
While that’s true, Bonner again refused to give names of people he had driven so his statement could be verified.
Bonner, who has a challenger in his November reelection bid, told KIRO 7 that he changed his carpool status last week. KIRO 7 was not tipped by his election opponent.
KIRO 7 talked to Mike Estey, manager of the city parking operations and traffic, and asked if he had any idea how the department could have no record of Bonner’s carpool application or names of any person in Bonner’s carpool.
“I don’t,” he said. “I wish I did.”
When KIRO 7 told Bonner that he apparently never provided names of people he carpooled with the judge asked, “Well then why did they authorize it?”
That’s a question transportation department officials are now asking.
“I think we as a city probably want to go back and check and re-check and make sure everybody who’s participating in the program is fully certified,” Estey said.
It’s not clear how they’ll do that, or how the city could prove that someone isn’t lying to save hundreds per month on city parking fees. A violation could result in cancellation of a permit, an impounded vehicle – or a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
KIRO 7 has filed a public disclosure request for records of all drivers getting the reduced carpool parking rate. We'll let you know if anyone else is apparently taking advantage of the system of taxpayer expense. If you have a tip, click this link to send us an e-mail.