FORT LAUDERDALE – Two parking enforcement specialists have been arrested after one of them – at the other’s request – issued a bogus parking citation to a motorist, according to police.
The incident followed an argument between one of the specialists and the motorist, who exchanged words about the fact that the motorist had driven into a barricaded area and was headed down the street in the wrong direction, according to police.
When the motorist left the scene, police say, the parking specialist called a colleague who was working in another area of the city. The colleague, who is also a parking enforcement specialist, proceeded to write a parking ticket which stated falsely that the motorist was illegally parked in another location.
“…the Defendants, Thankachan Kanjookaran and Byju Varughese, as public servants, to wit: City of Fort Lauderdale Parking Enforcement Specialists, with a corrupt intent to obtain a benefit for themselves or another or to cause unlawful harm to another, did knowingly falsify or cause another to falsify an official record or document,” Assistant State Attorney Catherine A. Maus wrote in a Nov. 23 complaint charging the men with one count each of official misconduct, a third-degree felony.
Attempts to reach Kanjookaran, 51, of Pembroke Pines; Varughese, 30, of Sunrise; and Chulluncuy were unsuccessful.
Kanjookaran and Varughese have been placed on paid suspension, pending the outcome of internal disciplinary hearings and the resolution of the charges. Managers are reviewing the men’s labor contracts, however, seeking to expedite the termination process, regardless of the outcome of the criminal cases, sources said.
Here’s what happened in the May 18 incident, according to investigators:
Kanjookaran confronted motorist Alfredo Chulluncuy, who was trying to drive his car inside an area between Northwest 12th Avenue and Northwest First Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale that had been barricaded for Haitian Flag Day events.
After Kanjookaran and Chulluncuy participated in a heated exchange, Kanjookaran began writing down Chulluncuy’s license plate number, as well as the make and model of his vehicle. Kanjookaran then allegedly told Chulluncuy, “Look what’s going to happen to you in a couple of weeks,” according to the criminal complaint.
Minutes later, Kanjookaran called Varughese, who was working in a different area of the city, at a parking lot located at 400 SE 1 Ave., near the Broward County Courthouse. Kanjookaran gave Chulluncuy’s vehicle information to Varughese, and asked him to write a parking citation for Chulluncuy, which he did, according to a separate Nov. 19 complaint affidavit completed by police officer Hector Martinez.
After receiving notices to pay the ticket in the mail several weeks later, Chulluncuy complained to the city’s Parking and Fleet Services Department that he was never at that parking lot. Staff members then referred him to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, where Chulluncuy filed a complaint.
“The victim insisted the parking citation was issued in retaliation for his May 18, 2009 argument with the Defendant,’’ Martinez wrote in his report.
Parking enforcement specialists are employees of the police department.
Fort Lauderdale Police spokesperson Sgt. Frank Sousa said certain information about the case was not immediately available due to the ongoing investigation.
The Internal Affairs Division of the police department conducted the investigation, and presented the case to prosecutors, who filed the criminal charges after reviewing statements and other evidence.
The other evidence reportedly includes cell-phone records and surveillance video of the parking lot on the date and time the citation was issued.
One source who is familiar with the case but requested anonymity said that the cases against the men are “solid.” Another source described the evidence as “overwhelming” and “airtight.”
The video reportedly shows Varughese driving his patrol vehicle into the parking lot, minutes after receiving the call from Kanjookaran. Varughese also reportedly parked in the exact space in which he alleged that Chulluncuy’s vehicle was parked illegally at the same time.
Both Kanjookaran and Varughese have worked for the police department for four years, according to the case file. They earn annual salaries of $37,876.80 and $39,707.20, respectively.
The police department has yet to release information about any prior discipline or performance issues regarding the men, or the Internal Affairs investigation case summary.
When asked whether the police department was seeking to determine if there may be other victims, Sousa said in an email to the newspaper, “No, not at this time.”
Pictured above are Thankachan Kanjookaran, left, and Byju Varughese, right.