4/20/2011South Carolina: Internal Emails Reveal Speed Trap Profit Motive
Internal emails regarding Ridgeland, South Carolina speed camera system shows profit drives deployment decisions.
An ongoing federal lawsuit against the speed trap town of Ridgeland, South Carolina uncovered internal emails last month that shed light on the motivation behind the state's only photo enforcement program. Since July 2010, Ridgeland has allowed the private firm iTraffic to operate a mobile speed camera van on Interstate 95, despite a state law outlawing the practice and a pair of attorney general opinions warning that the photo ticketing was not legal (view opinions).
The lawsuit filed by attorney Pete Strom in December has been expanded to reflect information recently gained from the discovery process. iTraffic has an unusually close relationship with the town and its mayor, Gary W. Hodges. For each ticket issued, iTraffic receives 50 percent of the profit from the $100 to $300 tickets and takes a 66 percent cut on any overdue collections.
Although Hodges points out in his public comments that "police officers" man the automated ticketing vehicle, those individuals are paid by and under the control of iTraffic. In an October 15, 2010 email, iTraffic CEO William Danzell issued orders to Officers David Swinehamer and R. Lowther.
"Starting today please fill out and sign a time card at the RV when you arrive and when you depart," Danzell wrote. "Your iTraffic 40 work week is determined by the hours deployed. The time cards will be delivered to Jason Cox by you for each day of work. Thanks. Bill."
In an October 18, 2010 email to Ridgeland town administrator Jason Taylor, Danzell made it clear his primary motivation in deciding when and where to place the cameras was generating the maximum possible number of citations.
"Just a follow-up to our lunch on Friday," Danzell wrote. "We should be consistently be delivering 120 to 130 tickets to Sandy on a daily basis. The potential is 200 but further improvements are required in the backoffice to achieve this number. We are working on this... but, we are not there yet. I'll keep you posted. Bill."
Another iTraffic employee, Jason Cox, ordered a change in the police officers shift in a January 17, 2011 email.
"If possible, I think we should move to 24 hour Friday-Sunday deployments," Cox wrote. "The numbers show (last week's data) that we will get a 50 percent increase if we move the weekday deployment to the weekend."
Strom's lawsuit argues that the "I-95 Speed Trap Enterprise" violates racketeering statutes by engaging in mail fraud to obtain money from motorists under false pretenses. The suit argues that each mailed citation makes fraudulent claims regarding the legality of the tickets and the consequences of failing to pay. South Carolina law does not recognize the service of citations by mail.