A Chicago collection agency has reclaimed more than $287,000 in delinquent Winnebago County, Illinois court fines in six weeks but many residents are complaining they're being called for accounts they've already paid.

Winnebago County signed a contract with Harris & Harris on Oct. 1, 2011. The agency began going after outstanding court fines on Dec. 28 and more than 198,800 cases from the county have gone through the agency since then.

Circuit Clerk Tom Klein acknowledges there have been some mistakes, mainly because they county switched to a new $6.9 million digital court case management system in November 2010 and, to make the change, information technology staff had to convert 1.8 million cases into the new system. That amounted to more than 110 million lines of data, and some items got lost in the mix.

But Klein adds that the county still has access to the old system and the hard copies to prove who paid and who did not. He said people being called need to realize their fines were probably in collections at one point but that they might not have been called.

Harris & Harris estimates it can collect $7.7 million in unpaid fines this year, which would be divided among several local governments. Winnebago County’s share would be about $3 million. The company estimates it can haul in $14.4 million by the end of 2014. Harris & Harris earns its pay by charging 30% of the cost of the fine to the person who owes it, as allowed by law.

The company has two employees working full time in Winnebago County. It replaces the county’s relationship with Rockford Mercantile Agency, which had collected about $450,000 in approximately 30 months.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato said the county made the switch to Harris & Harris because of the company’s reputation for handling government fine and fee collection. He said Harris also works for the Illinois Department of Revenue, Illinois Department of Transportation, and 18 of the 20 largest counties in Illinois, including Cook.

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