February 21, 2024
Lauren Warrem (inset) says she was fired as SANDAG’s director of accounting
and finance in retaliation for her considerations on toll highway mischarges. Occasions of San Diego picture illustration

Tens of hundreds of motorists who pay tolls on the South Bay Expressway — a 10-mile stretch of state Route 125 — have been charged incorrectly, says the previous director of accounting at SANDAG.

Lauren Warrem complaint against SANDAG. (PDF)
Lauren Warrem grievance towards SANDAG. (PDF)

In a lawsuit filed Friday towards the San Diego Affiliation of Governments, Lauren Warrem says she was fired Nov. 7 by company CEO Hasan Ikhrata and Chief Monetary Officer Andre Douzdjian with no motive given.

Josh Gruenberg and colleagues at his San Diego regulation agency are representing Warren, 48, of Poway.

“My consumer tells me that [drivers] complain day by day, and SANDAG will merely look into it and alter the account,” Gruenberg advised Occasions of San Diego. “However you realize, most individuals don’t name. Most individuals use the toll highway so usually that they’re by no means actually going to have the ability to know once they’re charged improperly and once they’re not.”

The ten-page lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court docket — alleging retaliation and wrongful termination — says many journeys on the 125 toll highway are being charged to the fallacious account — whether or not by way of the FasTrak transponders or license-plate readers.

“The accounting is only a mess,” Gruenberg stated Friday. “Apparently they’ve recognized about it for a while. … If [motorist] costs are off by 10% or 20% and even 30%, they in all probability wouldn’t know.”

In a press release, SANDAG CEO Ikhrata stated: “We’re not in a position to touch upon personnel issues or attainable litigation. Relating to the remaining questions, administration has suggested our auditors and the Board that there are considerations with the brand new operational system on the SR 125 and are taking energetic steps to handle these issues.”

The swimsuit gave examples of the miscues:

(1) Buyer A deposited cash into their toll account, however that cash was credited to Buyer J’s account. (2) When Buyer B drove by a toll lane, the cost was incorrectly utilized to Buyer J’s account.

Warren thinks errors might have an effect on as much as 45,000 buyer accounts, however Gruenberg stated 45,000 “is on the low finish.” He’s not conscious of different San Diego County toll roads with comparable points.

Gruenberg says Warrem refused to go together with “sweeping it below the rug” and insisted on transparency. “and he or she was terminated for that.”

SANDAG brochure on South Bay Expressway.
SANDAG brochure on South Bay Expressway. (PDF)

The nationwide service for toll-road administration often known as ETAN “promised they’d generate experiences that may resolve the variances,” the swimsuit says, later including:

“After delaying the experiences for a number of weeks, ETAN’s accountant verbally admitted that they weren’t in a position to get the promised monetary experiences to scrub up and help full and correct trial balances. ETAN’s accountant additionally admitted that as extra variances had been resolved, extra variances had been found.”

Warrem had an annual pay of $243,762 and a CalPERS retirement plan of two.7% at age 55, says the swimsuit demanding a jury trial.

Dallas-based ETAN didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

However on its web site, ETAN Tolling Expertise, which has an Irvine workplace, says:

ETAN supplies an enhanced cost expertise that’s correct, handy and safe for everybody concerned. Our system helps toll authorities bridge the hole between the monetary and operational features of managing video toll transactions. FASTLane’s monetary capabilities have been designed by accountants for accountants, and supply transparency all the way in which to the transaction stage. The actual-time dashboard presents up to date monetary and operational data, enabling quick determination making and the power to offer confidence to bond holders.

Due to tolling’s distinctive relationship with the client, delinquent accounts are by no means suspended even after they’re submitted for collections, which requires the billing and third-party restoration processes to function in parallel. ETAN is ready to present experience in each areas, in addition to an understanding of the regulatory segregation required to function these processes concurrently. The result’s a singular course of continuity that fosters operational effectivity and an excellent buyer expertise.

Different dominoes might fall on account of the lawsuit, Warrem says.

In an FYI be aware to Gruenberg, she says: “The brand new toll system that’s changing ETAN’s failed system on SR125 and I-15 HOV lanes may even be used as a part of the brand new Otay Mesa East Border Crossing to gather tolls. So this has federal impacts. SANDAG is attempting to safe federal funding for OME development. Extra stress to maintain this on the hush.”