A former Tennessee Highway Patrol officer and his business partner have formed a company selling camera-operated ticket systems, but there are problems in that its execution in Ridgeland, S.C. violates the law and endangers drivers.
On the evening of November 4, 2010, I was driving down Interstate 95 when a bright white flash blinded me. It was the kind of light flash one might expect before being kidnapped by aliens. My butt cheeks clenched; I wasn't willing to go easy!
Thankfully, I didn't receive an uninvited anal probe. Instead, on November 18, a uniform traffic ticket arrived in the mail. The ticket alleged I had been driving 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit at the time the bright light nearly blinded me and sent me into oncoming traffic. The ticket was accompanied by a cover letter from Ridgeland Police Chief Richard Woods, who stressed how dangerous it is to drive more than 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, and explained the various ways I could remit the $133 fee payment to the Town of Ridgeland.
I refused to pay this ticket, as Ridgeland's automated ticketing system seemed inordinately unsafe and reeked of corruption once I had done a bit of investigation into the matter.
City Paper discovered that Ridgeland has annexed a portion of I-95 and has been issuing thousands of traffic tickets with an automated system, trumping the authority of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. The camera system takes pictures of drivers supposedly exceeding the speed limit. The Town of Ridgeland and Mayor Gary Hodges shares the profits of every ticket with a small company called iTraffic, owned and operated by William Danzell and Nickey Maxey.
Here's the catch: no law enforcement officer personally serves the "speeding" driver, as is required by S.C. 5-7-110.
Ridgeland officials claim they fulfill the statutory requirement that an officer issue a citation personally because there is an officer stationed inside a RV just outside the camera. This officer supposedly monitors the camera as tickets are electronically issued. Not only is this poor legal reasoning, but from reading various lies on the Ridgeland town website, I was positive that these officials were full of shit.
Thus, on December 23, I did my civic duty and drove the City Paper van to Ridgeland. (I did this despite the fact that I was convinced there was a bench warrant issued for me due to the fact that I had skipped Ridgeland's kangaroo court date for my fraudulent ticket.) I parked next to the RV and forcibly banged on the door for several minutes to see if anyone was inside. I was looking forward to grilling the officer in the RV, but if anyone was in there, he must have had doughnuts stuffed inside his ears. Either that or he was watching gay porn so loudly that the only banging he could hear was his own. You decide.
I might add that traffic on I-95 was running quite smoothly that day until I approached the Ridgeland exit. Traffic slammed to a halt right at the exit, which I thought was an indication that word had spread about the illegal ticketing scam of the Town of Ridgeland. Even redneck truck drivers knew what these town crooks were up to. Unfortunately, the halted traffic was the result of a bad traffic accident in the southbound lane directly across from the RV. I almost laughed after hearing all the comments Mayor Hodges had made about the iTraffic system being about safety. However, as there was a good possibility the victims in those cars were seriously injured, it was anything but a laughing matter.
When power-hungry, redneck officials start operating outside the law, folks have to rely on Uncle Sam and the ol' federal government to make things right. On December 20, 2010, Strom Law Firm filed suit in federal court on behalf of three pissed-off Florida residents who had fallen victim to the Ridgeland traffic scam. Jeremy Glenn Ahlum, Mark William Emery and James Gary Gain all challenge Mayor Hodges, Chief Woods and the Town of Ridgeland on the legality of the tickets and the general intentions of town officials involved in the scam.
The lawsuit asks for all Ridgeland tickets issued by the iTraffic system to be thrown out and fines returned to their victims. According to the suit, if a driver ignores the town's illegally-generated ticket, the "Town of Ridgeland may issue a bench warrant for the driver's arrest or take action to suspend the driver's license." (Full disclosure: The author of this article is at an undisclosed location which may or may not be a barstool at Goatfeathers. Just try to come get me, you redneck assholes.)
On November 22, 2010, City Paper sent Mayor Hodges and Chief Woods of Ridgeland a formal records request via certified mail. To commemorate the holiday season, we sent it in festive Christmas bubble wrap decorated with the classic Peanuts cartoon characters. We requested various documents and "details of total fees, compensation and or commission provided to iTraffic Safety, William Danzell and Nickey Maxey. This includes but is not limited to any monthly maintenance fees and copies of any agreements in addition to the original iTraffic contract."
Is anyone surprised by the fact that Mayor Hodges & Company have not replied?
Good Ol' Boys
[caption id="attachment_3132" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Nickey Maxey"][/caption]
When Nickey Maxey created iTraffic, he had plenty of experience from his time in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he made millions off of contracts to place pay phone systems in jails. His connection in the endeavor, former Knoxville Sheriff Tim Hutchinson, has had his own bank loan problems and was sued by Citizens National Bank, of Athens, Tennessee, for $4.8 million in March of 2010.
[caption id="attachment_3171" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Tim Hutchinson"][/caption]
Hutchinson and Maxey are much closer than just "Facebook friends". Records show that the both individuals have a history on failing to pay on millions of dollars in loans with banks. Maxey built a mansion in Hilton Head, which was sold at a foreclosure auction to Liberty Savings Bank for $4.2 million. The bank assumed an additional $2 million owed on a second mortgage. A questionable land deal was also exposed in Knoxville News-Sentinel in 2004, by reporter Scott Barker who wrote: "RMCH Developers bought the land from Nickey Maxey, another associate of the sheriff who receives business from the Sheriff's Office, for $1.32 million, nearly five times the going rate for Wears Valley on a per acre basis."
[caption id="attachment_3173" align="alignright" width="150" caption="William Danzell"][/caption]
Maxey's current business partner for iTraffic is William Danzell. Securities and Exchange Commission records show that Danzell was involved with a ticket camera company similar to iTraffic in Knoxville called Nestor. Knoxville News Sentinel reported in 2007 that Nestor ultimately went out of business, but not before Danzell tried to force the board of directors to name Hutchinson and Maxey to the Nestor Board.
Maxey brought his Knoxville brand of nepotism to Ridgeland, South Carolina, in August 2010 with the implementation of the iTraffic system. Strom Law Firm's suit alleges that iTraffic is getting a cutback of half of every ticket written, but Mayor Hodges during a Senate subcommittee hearing claimed the figure is $24.50 per ticket. It is difficult to determine exactly how many tickets are being issued and how the funds are being distributed, due to the secrecy of the Town of Ridgeland and the fact that it ignores state records requests filed by this newspaper.
According to a January 27 article by The State called "Ban on highway cameras advances," the State of South Carolina gets $84 every ticket and Hodges admitted Ridgeland netting about $100,000 from the tickets to date. The ticket scam may be coming to an end as a state Senate subcommittee gave its approval to a bill to ban the cameras. During that hearing state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, told town officials, "You are operating in defiance of the law."
Is it about Safety?
Ridgeland officials claim that their automated ticketing outfit is all about safety.
The Town of Ridgeland claims the camera light used is a "soft red light." However, City Paper tested the system at night by repeatedly driving past the RV at over 80 miles per hour. We cannot for the life of us understand how a blinding white light could be construed as a "soft red light," anymore than the single-finger gesture issued by this reporter towards the camera and the Town of Ridgeland is to be construed as a "friendly wave."
Strom Law Firm makes similar allegations in its official complaint, "While Defendants contend that the traffic enforcement is to promote safety, the program was truly designed to generate revenue. Moreover, the traffic enforcement actually creates additional danger due to the placement of the traffic control vehicle and the blinding flash of light used to take a photograph of prospective and alleged violators."
[caption id="attachment_3124" align="aligncenter" width="390" caption="Perhaps U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (right) will help Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges (left) find jobs and revenue for Ridgeland that doesn't involve violating state law and sharing the profits with legislators."][/caption]
Ultimately, if the setup is about safety, then why is iTraffic palling around with state politicians and offering them thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. It sure seems that they're more interested in protecting their revenue stream than anything else:
Maxey contributed $750 to State Senator Tom Davis. iTraffic Safety, LLC, gave $2,000 to the Nikki Haley campaign, and $1,000 to Vincent Sheheen just in case she didn't pan out. But the largest legislative buttering up might be the $3,500 they gave to the Palmetto Leadership Council.
Maxey also openly invited Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer to stop by his government-subsidized farm in Estill, South Carolina. Maxey's farm has received $13,754 in USDA subsidies for his property to date. There is a bit of irony in these subsidies, when his business partner Danzell posted openly on Facebook, "Is our Government too big to fail? or will it fail because it is too big?"
In the end, if the Town of Ridgeland is ultimately concerned about safety, then why isn't it bothering to stop drivers on I-95? The town seems content to let drivers careen recklessly en route to Georgia so long as they get their $133.
For now victims of the scam can only wait for legal rulings in Federal court or wait for the cameras to be banned. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is raise your middle fingers high towards the sky as you drive through the town of Ridgeland!