11/2/2018Top Twenty-Five Photo Enforcement Felons
More than two dozen politicians, lobbyists and photo enforcement executives have been convicted of felony crimes ranging from forgery to bribery. Updated September 2022
Scandal has dogged the use of automated cameras to issue traffic tickets to the owners of vehicles since the first citation was issued more than a century ago (the first reported speed camera case was heard in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1910). More than twenty-five politicians and officials working for photo ticketing companies have been convicted of serious misconduct.
Safespeed in Illinois
The latest photo enforcement scandal involves red light camera vendor Safespeed, though several of those facing corruption charges have not yet had their day in court. Omar Maani, co-founder of Safespeed, was recorded by the FBI offering bribes various officials in suburban Chicago, Illinois. In September 2020, he struck a deal with prosecutors who dropped charges in return for his help snaring politicians.
On April 15, 2022, federal prosecutors charged Tony Ragucci, the former mayor of Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, with taking bribes from Safespeed representatives. Ragucci entered a guilty plea in May 2022.
Brothers James and Joseph Colucci were charged in May 2022 with distributing the bribes to Ragucci on Maani's behalf. The pair collected a $14 cut for each ticket issued in Oakbrook Terrace.
John O'Sullivan, a Safespeed salesman and the chief executive of Worth Township, was indicted on April 2021 for offering bribes to an Oak Lawn politician.
Lou Presta, the mayor of Crestwood, Illinois, was one of the officials caught on camera taking an envelope of cash from a Safespeed operative. Presta entered a guilty plea in November 2021 and was sentenced to one year in prison. He was released early on September 29, 2022, after convincing the judge he was in failing health. He will remain confined to his home until April 18, 2023.
Former Illinois state Senate Transportation Committee chairman Martin A. Sandoval admitted he took $250,000 in bribes from Safespeed to become the defender of photo enforcement in the legislature. He died on December 5, 2020, after entering a guilty plea.
Federal prosecutors in September 2022 charged Illinois State Senator Emil Jones III with taking bribes from Safespeed's co-founder in return for promoting legislation that served the company's best interests. Jones has entered a not guilty plea.
Patrick J. Doherty, the chief of staff to Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, bribed local officials on Safespeed's behalf. Doherty admitted his guilt in July 2022.
Chicago consultant William A. Helm was indicted for slipping cash to Sandoval so he would pressure the Illinois Department of Transportation. He entered a not guilty plea to the charges.
Force Multiplier Solutions in Texas
The next most recent scandal involved the use of cameras mounted on school buses to issue tickets to vehicle owners in Dallas, Texas. Robert Carl Leonard Jr, the CEO of bus camera provider Force Multiplier Solutions, admitted in 2018 that he bribed Dallas officials to secure a photo ticketing deal that earned his company $70 million. Leonard had been living large from his deal with Dallas. Federal agents seized $738,167 in Leonard's cash, along with a Bentley Continental GT, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, art and jewelry. He awaits sentencing along with the others involved in the scheme.
Ricky Dale Sorrells, then Dallas County Schools superintendent, in 2018 admitted he took $3 million in kickbacks from Leonard in return for signing the school bus ticketing camera contract that ultimately caused the dissolution of Dallas County Schools.
Larry Duncan, then the Dallas County Schools board president and a former city councilman, was busted for fraud after he took $245,000 in campaign contributions from Leonard in return for his help advancing the bus cameras deal. Instead of using the funds for legitimate political purposes, Duncan spent the majority of the cash on himself.
Dwaine Caraway, at the time a powerful member of the Dallas city council, admitted he took $450,000 in bribes from Force Multiplier Solutions. His vocal advocacy of automated ticketing helped sway fellow council members into approving the ticketing program that proved financially disastrous. He was sentenced to four years, eight months in prison.
Slater Washburn Swartwood Sr in 2017 admitted that he laundered money to help conceal the bribery payments to Dallas County Schools and to Caraway.
Richard Reynolds, a lawyer, in 2020 admitted that he created shell companies to disguise the bribe payments from Force Multiplier to Sorrells. He was sentenced to six months in prison.
Redflex in Illinois, Ohio and elsewhere
Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian provider of red light cameras and speed cameras, found itself embroiled in a sprawling corruption investigation involving envelopes filled with cash handed to politicians in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington according to the company's former executive vice president, Aaron M. Rosenberg.
Rosenberg entered a guilty plea on two counts of bribery in 2016. He was sentenced to just three months of home confinement, 120 hours of community service and ten hours of online ethics training in return for his testimony against colleagues.
Redflex lobbyist John P. Raphael was convicted of soliciting bribes for speed camera contracts for Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio councilmen. Because he kept quiet, Raphael protected these powerful local officials from being charged with accepting his bribes. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison on the federal charge of interference with commerce by threats. He was released on October 30, 2017.
Martin O'Malley, a Redflex contractor and the bagman in the Chicago, Illinois, bribery scheme, passed cash from Redflex to John Bills, the deputy director of Chicago's transportation department in return for the assistance of Bills in expanding the red light camera program into the largest in the nation. O'Malley was released on June 30, 2017 after serving six months behind bars. Bills is currently imprisoned in Pensacola, Florida, and will be released on August 12, 2024.
Karen Finley, former head of US operations Redflex Traffic Systems, wrote the checks for the bribes handed out in Chicago and Ohio. She was released from the federal prison in Phoenix, Arizona on December 4, 2018.
Long before Rosenberg's admissions, Shawn Brown, the former mayor of St. Peters, Missouri, was caught soliciting bribes from Redflex. He was jailed in the federal prison in Duluth, Minnesota, from April 2007 to August 1, 2008.
Jay Morris Specter was the next to fall. While serving as the top salesman for American Traffic Solutions, he was convicted of forgery in his personal business. He actively negotiated major speed and red light camera contracts for ATS while under indictment. Specter was convicted in January 2007 and was released from the federal prison in Edgefield, South Carolina, on September 21, 2010. Specter had previously worked as a salesman for Redflex.
Karen Coppens, a Washington DC police officer, embezzled $178,611 from the city's speed camera program. She admitted guilt on two counts of felony theft from a program receiving federal funds and was sentenced to a year in the federal prison in Marianna, Florida on September 12, 2008. She was released on May 20, 2010.
Smith County, Texas, Judge Joel P. Baker entered a plea of no contest in 2016 to a misdemeanor violation of the state's open meeting laws for signing an illegal speed camera contract with American Traffic Solutions behind closed doors. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct forced Baker to resign his position, and the state Court of Appeals rejected further attempts to keep the photo ticketing proceedings secret.