6/19/2015Red Light Camera Corruption Probe Brings Guilty Plea In Ohio
Ex-US head of Redflex Traffic Systems admits conspiracy to bribe officials in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.
Karen Finley, former head of US operations for Redflex Traffic Systems, will be going to jail for her role in a nationwide red light camera corruption scheme. Finley admitted her guilt to federal prosecutors on March 31, according documents that were unsealed on Friday.
The admission unexpectedly came not from the ongoing bribery trial in Chicago, Illinois, but from Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. This is the first evidence that the US Department of Justice corruption probe is likely to extend to Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington state where local officials took bribes, according to testimony given by another executive from the Australian camera firm.
Earlier this month, Finley indicated that she would plead guilty to bribery in Chicago, but the plea deal she struck in Ohio ensures that the sentence for both of these crimes will be imposed concurrently, which means she will spend no more than five years in jail and pay no more than a $250,000 fine.
"Karen L. Finley, together with others known and unknown, did knowingly and unlawfully conspire... to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the city of Columbus and the city of Cincinnati of their right to the honest and faithful services of the elected officials of the city of Columbus and the city of Cincinnati through bribery and the concealment of material information," Assistant US Attorney Brenda Shoemaker wrote.
Specifically, Finley and her executive vice president, Aaron Rosenberg, provided $30,000 in campaign contributions to Cincinnati and Columbus officials in return for contracts to operate automated ticketing machines. The money was funneled through a lobbyist identified by the Columbus Dispatch as John Raphael. The quid pro quo between the politicians and Redflex was made explicit in email records entered into evidence.
"What is the minimum you would recommend that would still get us recognition and keep you (and us) in good graces?" Rosenberg wrote in an October 9, 2007 email to the lobbyist.
Finley was copied on the communication, and she made it clear that she understood this was a substantial bribe.
"WOW that is a big handout," she wrote on the same day to Rosenberg. "Is this how our local city handles campaign financing -- now I understand the 'order of protection' for our friends."
The $30,000 check to the lobbyist was entered into the company ledgers under "consulting services." Not long after, the lobbyist distributed checks to third parties who made individual campaign contributions in a way that could not be traced back to Redflex. Another $5000 was distributed through the lobbyist to the Franklin County Democratic Party.
On October 6, 2011 the lobbyist sought a $20,000 "success fee" from Redflex to get Columbus to extend the photo ticketing contract. In turn, the lobbyist distributed the funds in the form of a campaign contribution in his own name to the Ohio Democratic Party. Ten days later, the Ohio Democratic Party made a $21,000 contribution to Columbus city council President Andrew Ginther, as identified by the Columbus Dispatch.
Columbus signed the initial contract with Redflex in 2005, renewed it in 2009 and extended it in 2010. Cincinnati's voters threw Redflex and its cameras out in a 2008 referendum.