By William Kincaid
A fruit hauler was the lone recipient of an illegal tax citation during a random diesel fuel checkpoint set up in Mercer County on Friday.
Diesel-fueled vehicles driving on state Route 127 just south of Celina were subjected to a random fuel test by the Ohio Department of Taxation.
The department's enforcement agents set up a lane off the highway where drivers were directed to pull over. The agents were looking for red-dyed diesel fuel, which means it has not been taxed and is illegal to use on public highways.
Taxation Department Assistant Investigator Josh Chaney said the red dye is added to diesel that is not taxed and intended only for use in equipment that farmers, construction workers, loggers and others use off the roadways.
Gary Gudmundson, communication director at the taxation department, said the citation is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine and/or a six-month jail sentence. He said the citation will be handled in the local court. Chaney said the citation may go to the actual driver or to the company.
All Ohio fuel is taxed at the same rate of 28 cents a gallon, and that money is used exclusively for highways in the state.
Gudmundson said the taxation department sometimes contacts local law enforcement prior to setting up the checkpoint, but may not. On Friday, neither the Mercer County Sheriff's Department or Ohio Highway Patrol were at the checkpoint. The patrol said they knew nothing about it, and the sheriff's department said someone from the state called that morning, but they did not get any specific details.
When asked what authority the taxation agents have if a driver doesn't stop, Chaney said, "If they don't stop at this point, we really can't go and pull them over."
But most drivers cooperate fully, Chaney added.
Gudmundson said the inspections have been occurring in Ohio since 2001 and are administered at random locations about five to 10 times a year.