Beaufort News

Attorney wants to add racketeering, wire and mail fraud charges to Ridgeland traffic camera suit

A Columbia attorney suing the town of Ridgeland over its use of traffic cameras on Interstate 95 wants to add racketeering and wire and mail-fraud charges to his class-action lawsuit, according to court records.

A motion Thursday by Pete Strom of the Strom Law Firm asks a federal district court to revise the lawsuit he filed in December against the town's mayor and police chief and the company that helped install and administer the camera system.

Strom's motion says new information "gives rise to additional causes of action including a claim of conspiracy and racketeering violations." Strom also wants to add five more drivers as plaintiffs to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two drivers from Florida and one from South Carolina.

The suit names Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges, Police Chief Richard Woods and iTraffic as defendants.

U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt has yet to rule on the motion, according to court records.

In the amended complaint, Strom claims the town's practice of mailing tickets to violators -- many of whom live outside Ridgeland's jurisdiction -- constitutes mail fraud and wire fraud because each ticket is "riddled with false statements made by ... Woods and the town of Ridgeland police department."

One such example, Strom claims, is a letter signed by Woods that accompanies each ticket, which states the driver has been cited for violating a municipal ordinance. The violation will not appear on the driver's record, the letter states.

The ticket itself warns that failure to pay the traffic fine or to appear in court could result in notification to the motor vehicle division in the driver's home state to recommend suspending the driver's license, according to the suit.

Strom claims that the letter and the ticket contain false statements meant to "induce ticketed individuals to pay the ticket," which qualifies as a "pattern of racketeering activity" as defined by federal law.

The lawsuit asks that Ridgeland return all fines it has collected and that the court order the town to stop issuing the tickets using the camera system.

In a response filed in January, iTraffic attorney Morgan Templeton of Charleston requested the suit be dismissed because the plaintiffs paid their traffic fines. By doing that, they admitted guilt and lost their right to sue, Templeton argued.

Ridgeland's lawyer, Timothy Domin of Charleston, also responded in a filing last month, challenging Strom's assertion that mailing tickets constitutes an illegal arrest.

Domin requested that the suit be dismissed and argued that issuing the tickets is not an arrest, as defined by the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unlawful searches and seizures.

Blatt has yet to rule on either motion, according to court records.