ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It is the Holy Grail of traffic infractions, and one that most drivers don’t dare violate.
However, a Larry Barker investigation found that some non-disabled employees of the Albuquerque District Attorney’s Office routinely display handicapped parking placards that don’t belong to them and occupy handicapped parking spaces outside the DA’s office.
“I found about it Wednesday evening,” said DA Kari Brandenburg. “By Thursday morning we had already launched an investigation. We shouldn’t be parked in those parking spaces because that is being very insensitive and violating the law …”
The undercover investigation discovered five DA office employees improperly using handicapped parking placards in the last few months.
Take, for example, Gloria Libutti, the DA’s Metro Division program assistant. On March 12, March 29 and April 17, News 13 caught Libutti using a handicapped placard that was issued to an 84-year-old woman.
News 13 video showed Metro Division trial secretary Rose Drane using a handicapped placard issued to a 53-year-old woman on three separate occasions. Patricia Glaspie used a handicapped placard issued to her son four times – on March 7, 26, and 30, as well as April 16.
Finally, News 13 documented Assistant District Attorney Anthony Griego using a handicapped placard issued to a 16-year-old girl. And while Griego does sometimes have a disabled passenger in his vehicle, the placard from the teenager was not issued to Griego or that passenger.
“It’s illegal,” said Jim Parker, the head of the Governor’s Commission on Disability. “You are not supposed to use somebody else’s placard, period.”
State law exempts citizens who are disabled from paying parking meter fees. The placard allows these citizens to park for free.
“It’s a huge deal because you still have people that think and act like they are above the law,” Parker said, “that this kind of law doesn’t pertain to them …”
Demesia Padilla, cabinet secretary for the Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, also frowned on the behavior of the DA’s office employees.
“(It) bothers me tremendously,” she told News 13. “Because they’re gaming the system and anytime somebody is trying to game the system, it means someone else is being harmed. And that’s just not right.”
News 13 confronted Libutti with the results of the investigation. At first, she said the placard was “maybe” issued to her. Then Libutti said the placard belonging to the 84-year-old woman actually was issued to her.
“Are you 84 years old?” Larry Barker asked.
“No,” Libutti said.
Glaspie said the placard she was using was issued to her son.
“But you are using it and your son is not in the car,” Barker said.
“No, but he could have been in the car,” Glaspie said.
She then decided she didn’t want to answer any more questions and declined to comment further.
Griego said he doesn’t use the handicapped placard when the disabled man he picks up from the train station isn’t in his car.
“We’ve got pictures of you using the placard when he’s not in the car,” Barker said.
“I don’t use the placard,” Griego said. “He’s with me all the time. I pick him up.”
“All the time?” Barker asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” Griego said.
Drane did not return a call for comment.
Brandenburg called the issue “a wake-up call.”
“I think sometimes we get lazy and we don’t always appreciate things as we should,” she said. “And so this is a wake-up call for individuals in this office, and I think this will be a good wake-up call for everyone in the community.”
Parker said handicapped people rely on the reserved parking spaces to make their lives a little easier.
“These are accessible spaces for people with disabilities,” he said. “Please don’t abuse them. It affects our lives.”
The Albuquerque Police Department and the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department are investigating the placard misuse documented in the News 13 report. DA Brandenburg said she will discipline any employee who misuses handicapped placards.
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