Former CEO of Red Light Camera Company Sentenced in Bribery Case

16:29 October 26, 2016
By: Anthony O'Donnell

Redflex Traffic Systems, a company responsible for installing, operating, and monitoring red-light traffic cameras, has come under fire for underhanded business practices, including collusion with local governments. The company recently settled a complicated lawsuit over its cameras in Jefferson Parish, and is currently embroiled in another suit involving its cameras in Gretna. Now, the company’s former CEO has been officially convicted and sentenced for bribery.

Redflex was founded in South Melbourne, Australia in 1997, and operates primarily in the United States and Australia, providing what are known as vehicle monitoring and enforcement services, for government agencies throughout those countries. Their products use sensors to detect red-light violations and photograph the perpetrator’s license plates, employing similar technology to detect drivers who exceed the speed limit. The techniques have been controversial, with many arguing over the camera’s ability to deter violations and increase traffic safety. Studies on the efficacy of the cameras have been largely inconclusive, but some have shown an actual increase in accidents at red-light cameras.

Whether or not the cameras actually serve their intended purpose, they’ve attracted attention for another, not entirely unrelated reason: since the cameras directly generate revenue both for the companies operating them and the municipalities in which they’re placed, the officials making the arrangements are often subject to charges of corruption. After all, the cameras are unpopular among motorists and have little to no proven track record of reducing traffic accidents, yet they continue to spring up around the country. New Orleans’ budget for 2017 includes provisions to nearly double the city’s number of cameras, generating an estimated $6 million in revenue. Who is profiting?

Karen Finley, who served as CEO of Redflex from 2005-2013, was sentenced to 14 months in prison last week after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges in Ohio. Finley admitted that, for nearly the entire length of her time with the company, she had been involved with a scheme in which the company routed campaign contributions to elected officials, on the condition that the officials would help Redflex keep or maintain its contracts. These included the city of Columbus’ red light enforcement cameras. 

Finley went on record in a pre-sentencing memorandum stating that the company was “a toxic and soul-sucking place to work.” She will be sentenced later this year for her part in a similar scheme in Chicago, to which she also pled guilty; in that case, she hired a transportation official’s close friend as a consultant at Redflex and used him to funnel money to the official, who in turn helped expand Redflex’s operations in the city. The official, John Bills, paid for a boat, a car, and a divorce attorney, among other things, with the money, and also took 17 trips on Redflex’s dime between 2003 and 2010. He fought the charges of corruption in court, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month.

A lawsuit filed earlier this year aims to end New Orleans’ traffic camera program once and for all, and ideally to refund some of the million-plus people who have received citations, on the ground that the cameras are unconstitutional and violate due process. For New Orleanians, and others nationwide who are suspicious about the proliferation of these unpopular enforcement tools, Finley’s admissions are just more evidence of what they already suspected: these camera programs are more about money than safety.

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