Arizona brothers making millions on red-light camera tickets in St. Louis

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by Chris Nagus / News 4 and KMOV.com staff

KMOV.com

Posted on October 25, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 11:24 AM

(KMOV.com) -- Critics of red light cameras say they are strictly a money grab, but supporters say the cameras save lives. News 4 found that two brothers in Arizona are making millions off the tickets issued to St. Louis area drivers.

Most of the cameras around Metropolitan St. Louis come from one company based in Arizona. That company is American Traffic Solutions. Each time someone in the St. Louis area gets a red light ticket, ATS gets a portion. News 4 found that the deal has lead to some incredible wealth.

So, we wanted to know who is getting rich. Even though supporters of the camera say they are for safety, it is apparent they are also about money.

Shawn Dow, an opponent of the cameras, might just be the most vocal critic of American Traffic Solutions. Dow and his group, Campaign for Liberty, have been battling the Scottsdale, Arizona company for years.

When News 4's Chris Nagus asked about the company’s stance suggesting the cameras are about safety, Dow replied “It is a lie; it is pure PR spin so they can keep their money grab going.”

The company’s CEO, James Tuton, lives in a lavish mansion outside Phoenix. His brother Adam, the company’s Vice President and two of the company’s top officers also own exclusive homes in wealthy neighborhoods nearby. They are making a fortune off the cameras and if you have ever received one of those $100 tickets, you contributed.

News 4 asked the City of St. Louis and 19 surrounding cities from Florissant to Creve Coeur how much they have collected and then paid out to ATS. In most cities, ATS gets $31.33 from every ticket collected. According to our math, ATS has been paid more than $18.2 million out of the nearly $48.5 million collected in our area.

Matt Hey, a former Arnold city councilman said he opposes the cameras and calls them “cash registers on poles.” Hey says they were placed at intersections with improperly timed yellow lights allowing the city of Arnold to issue more red light tickets.

In regards to the improperly timed lights, State Senator Jim Lembke said, “What we wanted to address was something called the dilemma zone.” Lembke was referring to the decision a driver must make once the light turns yellow; whether to hit the gas or hit the brakes.

Lembke introduced legislation forcing Missouri cities to use the same standard for yellow light times so a city could not use shorter yellow lights as an effort to issue more tickets. It’s a formula based on speed limit. The law went into effect in August this year, but was applied to Arnold in 2011.

After years of ticket increases from ATS cameras in Arnold, the number of tickets issued by the cameras dropped by 63 percent: From 9,445 tickets issued in 2010 to 3,487 tickets issued in 2011.

American Traffic Solutions says do not blame them for making a profit. Blame the people breaking the law.

ATS provided former U.S. Attorney Ed Dowd to speak on the company’s behalf. When asked about why he thinks some people hate the red light cameras, Dowd replied, “People want to run red lights when they’re in the mood for it. It’s up to the municipality and ATS to stop them."

Dowd downplays the critics who claim ATS is only in it for the money. These are the same critics who also say the cameras actually pose a danger because drivers slam on their breaks to avoid tickets, thus creating another potential danger.

That is a claim that Dowd also disputes. Dowd also said ATS does not pick the intersections to install the cameras; those are picked by the cities.

When addressing the millions of dollars collected by ATS, Dowd said the company’s overhead for installing the camera equipment is high. Dowd told us “it’s my understanding the cost at any intersection is between 75 and 100 thousand dollars.” The company did not provide supporting documentation to prove that cost. They said disclosing that information could put them at a comptetitive disadvantage.

For critics who oppose the ATS business model, it is also based on principle. How can a private company dabble in a public arena doing something that, in the past, was handled solely by certified police officers who witnessed a crime?

“This (money) is going to a man who lives in Paradise Valley who is sitting in a mansion making money violating your constitutional rights,” says Shawn Dow. Ed Dowd counters, “There’s no constitutional right to running a red light. If somebody runs a red light and puts my family in danger, I don’t care what they think.”

When Matt Hey was asked if people who run lights should get tickets he said, “Most definitely. I think they are dangerous drivers, but I think they should be pulled over by a police officer.”

It’s unlikely these cameras are going to disappear anytime soon because ATS is not the only one making money. Municipalities are also raking in millions of dollars from these fines.

For a look at the numbers compiled from local cities with ATS contracts click here.

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