Federal Red Light Scam Probe Heats Up – Coming to a City Near You

The dominos started to tumble in Chicago and Texas was named by the former employee at the center of this maelstrom as a state where these bribes took place. Wonder how long before the Justice Department looks this way?

Retired Chicago official charged with graft over red light cameras.

(Reuters) – A retired Chicago official who once ran the city’s red light camera program was charged with graft on Wednesday on suspicion of taking bribes in return for contracts worth $124 million for cameras used to catch motorists running stop lights.

John Bills, 52, was charged with one count of bribery in U.S. District Court for allegedly steering city contracts for 384 cameras and other services to Redflex Traffic Systems, the U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago said in a statement.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Bills’ attorney, Nishay Sanan, said the veteran former city official was being used as a scapegoat by prosecutors who sought to implicate others in the scheme.

Redflex said it has been cooperating with authorities.

“Last year, we publicly released the findings of our internal investigation into the conduct of several former employees and announced new leadership, new policies and a line between our past and today’s Redflex,” it said in a statement.

Bills managed the red light camera program until he retired in 2011 after working for the city for 32 years, according to prosecutors.

An unnamed individual at Reflex was said to have funneled more than $643,000 in cash to Bills between 2006 and 2011, according to the complaint, which said he spent the money for travel, a luxury car and to pay off loans.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for an investigation of Redflex in 2012 before the city cut ties with the company, according to the Tribune.

As a follow up to this article, I’d like to add that a whistleblower blew the lid off this thing in 2010 and Redflex had its own internal investigation which, of course, showed no bribery had taken place.  Only after the Chicago Tribune did some digging in 2012 did they finally admit to the scam after a second internal investigation and on the eve of the city being forced to recognize the fraud.

We can win. Information is our ammunition. Our voices are our weapons. I am continuing to request more from our city each day regarding their dealings with this scandalous company. Whether through recognition that these laws are unconstitutional or that the people behind them are money hungry criminals, these cameras will come down.

Text of Redflex Internal Investigation

Red Light Cameras will Cost Denton Millions

The fight is not over. Free Denton has fallen silent for a few weeks while more information collects and to wait and see the results of our city elections. I would like to thank everyone that  contacted our candidates and let them know your stance on the red light camera scam.

The media thus far, refuses to investigate this story, so we have requested documents through the open government act and will provide you with a detailed history of red light camera abuse – assuming the city doesn’t try to dodge the Texas Open Government act and Freedom of Information Act.

Until then, there is plenty of readily available information to point to the shady nature of this entire red light camera enterprise.

On April 1, 2013, the Denton Traffic Safety Commission held a meeting where member Gilmore Morris asked Captain Scott Fletcher why some communities were removing these red light cameras.

Captain Fletcher’s response danced around the truth. He first deflected by speaking about cities outside of our own state and commented on the collection procedure being a motivating factor for removal. He then mentioned that in Houston, the city had turned them off due to a citizen’s group forcing a vote but the cameras had been turned back on again.

Let me share some truth.

A full year before Morris asked this question, Houston had settled a lawsuit for 12 million dollars and shut the red light cameras down, for good.

A citizen’s group had risen up and forced a vote which the city initially fought but was forced to accept in August of 2011. They then entered into a protracted legal battle with the camera vendor for breach of contract.

Any reason why Captain Fletcher might be reluctant to tell the traffic Safety Commission about this?

By the April 2013 meeting, several Texas cities had voted to ban these Orwellian devices. Houston, Baytown, College Station, League City just to name a few. When will we abandon this sinking ship? After the city has installed dozens more cameras and looted motorists of millions more in their thinly disguised money-making scheme? How many millions will the ensuing lawsuit cost us?

But if Captain Fletcher had spelled out the cost, what could the Traffic Safety Commission have done?

Nothing.

The Commission is a powerless farce meant to give an appearance of oversight to an out of control, corrupt program. In 2009, the city voted to dissolve the Commission which at least one former member, John Crew. believed, at the time was “was a way to silence commission members from bringing up things the city doesn’t want to discuss.”

It was reformed with a directive that it was simply an advisory board and given no power. The following year, the red light camera program was expanded.

Recently, Gilmore Morris, the member who asked the question why communities were banning red light cameras and received the incomplete answer, resigned.

Further, as recently noted on Free Denton, this question was answered without disclosure of a recent scandal involving our own vendor, Redlex. The Chicago bribery scandal had them kicked out of that city by February 2013, two months prior to this meeting in an investigation which had been underway since November 2012.

The media may be reluctant to report on this, but stay tuned to Free Denton for more information about this growing scandal and how you can help make Denton an inviting and safe community again.

http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=8513986

http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20101217-ordinance-ousts-all-on-city-traffic-panel.ece

http://www.cityofdenton.com/Home/ShowDocument?id=10576

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-08/news/ct-met-chicago-red-light-investigation-0208-20130208_1_redflex-holdings-red-light-camera-redflex-contract

http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20101217-ordinance-ousts-all-on-city-traffic-panel.ece

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/metro/20140507-denton-city-council-bans-texting-while-driving-approves-gas-drilling-moratorium.ece

Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

*Update – received a reply from Jean Schaake. Sounded like a negative view of the cameras but again, no commitment to making changes and a simple acceptance that the contract has already extended. We need someone willing to take action NOW not five years from now.

Information on formal petitions (initiatives and referendums) was finally received and I’m not sure if this will be a route that is open to us. I may work on an informal petition simply to show the city that residents want action.

I’ve attended candidate debates and submitted questions, I’ve had a running dialogue with the Mayor and sent press releases and letters to the editor to our Denton Record Chronicle – all of these avenues have yielded little results and little dialogue. DRC seems intent on only publishing quotes from the city about the program.

Early voting for our municipal elections starts TODAY. Recently I sent questions to each candidate regarding our Red Light Camera fight and I’ve actually gotten some responses.

Of the responses, Glen Farris said he was “wary” of the program and felt relying on citations as a revenue source was problematic. Greg Johnson believed they did in fact improve safety so I provided a bit of education on the matter using our own city’s statistics. I spoke at length on the issue with Chris Watts and he sounded open to the idea of revisiting the camera issue as well and requested more information but didn’t strongly oppose them. I’ll report more responses as I receive them.

What I want YOU to do is ask the same questions of the candidates. Let them know this issue extends beyond one concerned citizen. Let them know you feel the red light camera program has little to do with safety, has proven to increase accidents and is simply a revenue generator for the city and a corrupt foreign corporation.

People have given up. They don’t vote. They let Fox and MSNBC tell them who to vote for and check a color. Be active. Start on the local level and maybe we’ll be able to reclaim our country from the corporate oligarchy that rules it.

District 2
John Ryan
Website
Facebook

Glen Farris Squibb
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Place 5
Dalton Gregory
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Hatice I. Salih
Twitter

Place 6
M. Brendan Carroll
(Has abandoned his bid)
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Greg Johnson
Website
Facebook

Mayor
Donna Woodfork
Twitter

Chris Watts
Website
Facebook

Jean Schaake
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Why Fight Safety?

Many people have heard the industry arguments that these cameras are all about safety. Lobbyists and industry “experts” have been selling that line for years.

Studies cited by camera companies and greedy city officials all say these cameras reduce accidents. But why has Denton seen an increase at the two intersections which we have pre-camera and post camera data for. At 380 and Mayhill, accidents have nearly doubled. At 377 and I35, they’ve gone up by around 50%.

Turns out, many of those studies are flawed and inadequate.

A 2004 study by the Urban Transit Institute concluded that there was, if anything, an increase in accidents at intersections with these cameras. This study provided a more rigorous look at a larger data set and included things such as weather and traffic volume.

The pro-camera studies are surface investigations at best, and generally use very small datasets without rigorous evaluation of that data. External factors are generally ignored and extremely basic methodology is employed. They are written to sell cameras, not provide useful, scientific information.

But now that the camera companies have gotten their way and peddled their products across the nation, the truth is unavoidable. These devices are dangerous.

In Los Angeles, it was shown that accidents at 20 of the 32 intersections with cameras had increased. In some cases, accidents had tripled. Corpus Christi showed an increase in accidents at their Red Light Camera intersection of 14% and a 28% in injury crashes. Fort Collins, Colorado was showing dramatic increases as well as a study in Washington, D.C., performed by independent traffic engineers which showed accident rates more than doubling in some cases.

When you’re approaching a light at forty or fifty miles an hour, the last thing you need to do is second guess your decisions in that seconds-long window before and after a light turns yellow. At night, the last thing you need is a blinding flash in your rear window and rear view mirror.

All of this is old news. Your city representatives KNOW this. Our own data supports this. In fact, the new cameras aren’t placed with any sort of “safety” in mind. The camera at 288 and Spencer, according to the Engineering Report performed prior to the installation, showed ZERO red light running accidents in the 18 months prior.

How are they proposing to make that intersection “safer”?

They aren’t. It’s a busy intersection and a cash cow for people making not-quite-textbook right hand turns. That’s the only reason the camera was placed there.

Given the data, our own experience, who do YOU think should be responsible for the likely increase in accidents we’ll see over the next year?

Hold our city officials accountable.

History of Corruption in Texas

Still waiting on clarification from the city on their rules for filing a petition. Until then, how about a bit of clarity on this issue?

The red light camera scam in Texas has a long and sordid history. Texas legislators actually fought for years to keep these types of laws off the books. In 2003, the house voted 103 to 34 against letting red light cameras into the state. Then Representative Harper Brown and her friends at Paradigm Traffic Systems arrived in a shiny new SUV.

Using an amendment supplied by the camera companies, she quietly inserted it into an unrelated transportation bill and in the typical chaos that is our government, it was not discovered until after the legislative session.

House leadership was presumably furious and they tried several times, unsuccessfully, to remove the law and alter, to sunset the use of red light cameras in the state altogether. Their challenges always seemed to die in the senate.

In 2010, the Texas Values in Action Coalition filed a complaint which indicated that both Harper’s 2004 Chevy Tahoe and a 2010 Mercedes SUV were provided by Durable Enterprises Equipment which sold red light camera equipment through Paradigm Traffic Systems. She received a slap on the wrist from the ethics committee and the law remained on the books.

Remember how these efforts kept dying in the Senate?

With the way paved for for-profit surveillance of Texas residents, Senator John Carona sealed the deal in 2007 by adding a law to divert camera funds to a State Trauma fund, thus creating a vested interest for the state to support the program. So far, the $46 million dollars has been used not for trauma centers but for questionable accounting tricks. Carona then went on to thwart further efforts to ban the cameras in 2009. It has been revealed that Senator Carona accepted significant campaign donations from a photo ticketing collection firm over the years.

These laws aren’t about safety. They are paving a way for a private, for-profit corporation to reach in your pocket and share the ill-gotten gains with corrupt politicians.

Please join me in reclaiming our rights. Follow our blog. Join the fight.

Sources:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2013-07-19/red-light-firm-red-in-the-face/

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20100705-Red-light-camera-companies-a-lobbying-9768.ece

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20100617-Questions-raised-about-Rep-Linda-4114.ece

http://watchdogwire.com/texas/2014/03/25/scandal-ridden-red-light-cameras-offer-potential-corruption/

http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/43/4353.asp

Next Step?

While several Council Members requested “staff to comment on my speech” this very likely amounts to politics as usual. They are on track to steal well over a million dollars from our local community this year, so it’s extremely doubtful they will choose to do the right thing.

Lobbyists have bought and sold this country ten times over. It may seem hopeless, and I know many people have simply accepted this as a reality, but if we mobilize against them, we will be unstoppable.

The next step is to start a petition. I’m exploring the process right now. According to city ordinances we need five “electors” to form the committee of petitioners. I have some ideas, but I want to hear from YOU.

An elector would need to be able to devote time to fighting to restore our rights. Collecting signatures from not only their own social circles but at public events.

The folks over at http://www.frackfreedenton.com have gone the extra mile and founded a non-profit organization to raise funds for their cause.

I’m looking for any local Denton residents to come join the fight. One voice at a council meeting won’t be enough, I need ALL of you. We need to reclaim our democracy from lobbyists and corporate interests. Who’s ready to fight?

Please comment or contact me by email at russ.linton at gmail.com.

Contacted Mayor and Council Members

At the very end of last night’s Council Meeting, Council Member Engelbrecht, followed by Mayor Burroughs and Council Member Roden all motioned to have staff respond to my speech. I sent an email to the Mayor and Council Members earlier today providing them with my sources, all publicly available or through Freedom of Information Act requests, and asked that any response from “staff” be made available to myself and the public. At the very least, I should be able to get a hold of it later via a FOIA request.

Please don’t forget to sign up with your email and follow the blog! I will keep all of this information private and only use it to inform you of events related to dismantling Denton’s Red Light Camera program.

Thanks!