From CBS 2:
"As far as I knew it was a piece of garbage sitting on the curb," Paul Lawrence said.
But what Lawrence didn't know when he decided to pick up a discarded air conditioner sitting on the sidewalk in Middle Village, Queens is that once trash hits the curb, it's technically city property.
And he was breaking the law.
"There was a lady here. I asked the lady can I take the air conditioner. She said go ahead take it. It's garbage," Lawrence said.
But not only was he fined $2,000 by a sanitation officer who watched him do it, the car he was driving was impounded.
And its owner -- Lawrence's Aunt, 73-year-old Margaret Colavita, was also slapped with a $2,000 fine.
"I said what is this and she said well we have to serve you with this. You're the owner of the car and it says I gave him permission," Colavita said.
Department of Sanitation officials said it's not always illegal to pick up something from the street. It's only when you're driving a vehicle that the law gets triggered.
Recycling is a revenue source for the city and sanitation officials said the law was "designed to deter organized rings of recycling thefts" that cost the city more than $300,000 a year.
CBS 2 HD took the issue to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Two thousand dollars is a pretty hefty fine and I don't know what law was broken," Bloomberg said.
Lawrence said he now knows all too well and plans to fight his fine in court.