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As Jon Szostek flipped through his mail recently, he discovered to his shock a notice of a $500 fine for illegally dumping a package — one he ordered but never received.

The 36-year-old ordered a bed frame from Wayfair but said the package never made it to his doorstep. Days after the package went missing, the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development found the box dumped in a lot 10 miles from its intended destination in Federal Hill.

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“Yeah, my name is on the package, but you hear about getting packages stolen all the time,” Szostek said. “I just don’t know how they could write the fine.”

Using names and addresses on discarded packages is just one of several tactics the department uses to hold illegal dumpers accountable, said Jason Hessler, Baltimore’s deputy housing commissioner for permits and litigation.

Every year, about 10,000 tons of trash are dumped illegally throughout the city, according to a 2018 annual report on illegal dumping by the Department of Public Works.

"It’s crazy what people throw away. We’ve identified people off of prescription bottles, medical records, Social Security numbers, checkbooks and all kinds of crazy stuff.


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Though Hessler said the vast majority of citations come from 311 calls, the department also issues citations from regular patrols or surveillance cameras scattered throughout the district. Hessler said workers will sometimes even dig through trash bags to find a name or an address.

“It’s crazy what people throw away,” Hessler said. “We’ve identified people off of prescription bottles, medical records, Social Security numbers, checkbooks and all kinds of crazy stuff.”

Illegal dumping is defined as the “disposal of any waste in an area not designated for such disposal,” Public Works said in its annual report. It also includes dumping large bags of trash, building materials and bulky items.

The Public Works report said last year that almost 1,150 citations were issued for illegal dumping with fines ranging from $50 to $30,000. Some people even faced jail time.

In Szostek’s case, Hessler said, workers were responding to a 311 call for an abandoned vehicle in the 5400 block of Frankford Ave. When they arrived in Northeast Baltimore’s Frankford neighborhood, Hessler said, the car was gone. But workers found several boxes piled up in the lot behind brush and trees.

Within that pile was a box with Szostek’s name on it that once held a queen-sized bed frame, Hessler said. So, he was issued a $500 citation for illegally dumping under 25 pounds.

Hessler said once the citation is issued it works like a parking ticket: People can either pay it or request a hearing.

Those who feel a citation has been issued wrongfully also could try to email or call the office to speak with a supervisor. But most times, Hessler said, a hearing before the city’s Environmental Control Board will need to be requested.

To prepare for the hearing, Hessler said, the person collects evidence to appeal the citation before the board. Szostek got Wayfair to send a letter that had the original tracking number listed and said the package was lost in transit.

As of September, the Environmental Control Board said it has held 120 illegal dumping hearings. The board has dismissed nearly half of the citations that reach the hearing phase, according to department data.

Szostek said fighting the citation has been a hassle. He’s had to take time off from work to go to the city’s office to try to avoid the hearing.

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Last week when he visited, the department said it would waive the fine. However, 10 days later Szostek said he was notified that the citation was still active. But after a Baltimore Sun reporter asked the city about the status of the citation, the department said it was voided.

“I just don’t understand at the end of the day how they send out fines like this without any evidence of who’s doing it,” he said. “It seems like they should be fining McDonald’s for the cups found in the street.”

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