Hampton set up its speed trap, just like its neighbors, Waldo and Lawtey. Since Hampton has no schools, homes or businesses along 301, traffic safety really wasn't the issue. The focus always was on revenue -- and state and county officials say that's where the city went wrong. It's the crack that allowed corruption to creep in and take hold.
The key players in this chapter of the saga are the county sheriff and Hampton's chief of police.
Almost from the minute Sheriff Gordon Smith was sworn into office, he started hearing about Hampton and its speed trap. He couldn't go to the store or church or a Friday night football game without running into somebody with a gripe about the city.
At first, all of the complaints were about the speed trap. But as time went by, people started complaining about what was going on at City Hall, too. They told him they couldn't talk to anyone else. If they spoke up at City Hall, their water got shut off.
Smith is a bit of an anomaly: a Democrat in conservative North Central Florida. He's a redhead and fair-skinned. When something angers him, he sputters: "That makes my freckles pop."
He had started his law enforcement career on the police force in Starke, where he met another young officer named John Hodges. The two began as friends, but it didn't last.
Hodges became the police chief in Hampton. And what was going on in Hampton was enough to make the sheriff's freckles pop.
Hampton cops were a fixture out on U.S. 301. They sat on lawn chairs, pointing radar guns at unsuspecting motorists. They hid behind recycling bins. As more and more money came in, they idled in slick SUVs, trolled the median strips in riot gear and toted state-of-the-art firepower. Locals gave one the nickname "Rambo" because he slung an AR-15 rifle across his chest.
All to write tickets.
Money generated by the tickets was poured back into law enforcement.
They "were just out there writing tickets galore," recalled Moore, the jailed mayor-for-a-minute. "I mean, you can hear all those sirens all day long -- woo, woo, woo -- lighting up everybody. It got ridiculous."
The American Automobile Association's Auto Club of the South labeled Hampton a "traffic trap" and warned members about the town, along with Lawtey and Waldo, on its maps. The AAA also erected warning billboards along U.S. 301.
People complained that Hampton officers were stopping them without cause, leaving kids and pets in hot cars and impounding cars based on outdated allegations that surfaced in computer searches. The sheriff's department investigated some of the complaints, but those inquiries never went anywhere.
Hodges bristled at the interference. Smith said he asked the chief for a roster of his officers so they could be trained to use the county's radios and computers. He also wanted to verify that people who radioed in and said they were Hampton cops actually were authorized to run criminal records checks.
Hodges handed him a list of four names and indicated that 15 others either worked "undercover" or were assigned to "special details" and would not be named.
The ticket money continued rolling in: $616,960 between 2010 and 2012. Hampton's peak year came in 2011, when 9,515 speeding tickets brought in more than $253,000.
That was the year state Rep. Charles Van Zant got his speeding ticket. He says he drove directly to the courthouse in Starke and paid it. And, he insists, he carries no grudge. But later, he observed, "When I got my ticket, you couldn't hardly pass by Hampton without getting a ticket. You can say that's law enforcement, but no. That's banking using the U.S. highway system."
By 2012, Smith was playing hardball. He questioned whether the city had legally annexed the 1,260-foot stretch of U.S. 301; he said nobody could find a document recording the easement. He also believed that Hampton was illegally tracking cars with its radar outside the city limits.
He persuaded a judge to dismiss Hampton's tickets and cut the city's officers off the county radio and national criminal record database. He ordered his deputies not to accept Hampton's prisoners at the county jail.
Responding to the pressure, Hampton took down its speed trap. The ticket money for 2012 dropped more than 40 percent from the previous year.