ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Johns County man says he's the victim of a red light camera rip-off, after getting a violation in the mail from Miami, a place he hasn't been in 10 years. But when he got nowhere trying to fight it -- and then was notified his fine had increased and he needed to appear before a Miami judge -- his family contacted the I-TEAM for help.
The wrong guy
The I-TEAM took a look at the pictures and video mailed to Tony Marques from the Miami Police Department. We immediately saw the red light camera evidence being used against him was flawed.
"It got me really upset," Marques told the I-TEAM. "Why should I pay something that didn't occur? It is not my responsibility."
The video and photos from March, show a white Honda minivan running a red light at a Miami intersection, but Marques car is a silver Toyota sedan.
"It's clearly a red light, no question about that," said Marques looking at the evidence.
We took a closer look and it comes down to the custom license plate.
The vehicle running the red light has a tag with the word "BRAZIL," and so does Marques' vehicle. But Marques' tag is a Florida plate and the minivan's tag appears to be from the state of Delaware.
On top of that, the red light camera violation happened 330 miles from his St. Augustine home -- in Miami -- a place Marques hasn't been in a decade.
When Marques got the first notice in the mail, he said he contacted the Miami Police Department as well as the private company that runs the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, but said he never heard back. Then another notice came in the mail stating the original $158 fine had not gone up to $277 -- with a set court date in Miami.
"If something is wrong, somebody has to be responsible for it. Not the public, not me. I've got nothing to do with it. Haven't been in Miami. I'm just an old dude," Marques said with a laugh.
The 69-year-old didn't want to drive 660 miles round trip, pay for a hotel and possibly a lawyer, to fight a black and white case.
Before a red light violation notice is mailed out, law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the violation occurred has someone review the evidence first to make sure an infraction happened, and also to match the license plate to the vehicle and its owner.
"It is totally unfortunate and not fair that law enforcement did not do their job in this case," said Jacksonville defense attorney Gene Nichols, who is not involved in this case. "I don't think there's any question they just stamped it through."
Nichols says because red light camera violations don't come with points on a driving record, many innocent people just pay to get rid of them -- especially with it's in another jurisdiction where someone would have to travel in order to fight the case in court.
"For this guy [Marques], for what happened to him, it's a rip-off," added Nichols.
The I-TEAM contacted both the Miami Police Department and American Traffic Solutions on Marques' behalf, and we did hear back right away.
Officer Michael Vega, a supervisor with Miami P.D. told us officers review 40,000 possible violations a month and less than 1-percent are issued to the wrong person.
And, Charlie Territo, a spokesperson for American Traffic Solutions told us ATS issues 4 million violations a year, and that cases like Marques' are rare. But, the company acknowledged someone misidentified the plate by marking down the wrong state.
The same day we contacted ATS and Miami police, Marques' violation was dismissed with no fines and no court, and offered an apology for the inconvenience.
"Thank you so much. I really appreciate you helping us. It was a great help," Marques told the I-TEAM.
He wants the people who oversee the issuing of red light camera violations to pay closer attention before approving them. And, he wants those who get them in the mail to know mistakes can happen.
"Open your eyes," said Marques. "Make sure you don't pay the tickets that don't belong to you."
By the numbers
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles surveys jurisdictions to keep updated statistics on red light cameras.
Operational red light cameras
As of June 30, 2016, there were 688 active red light cameras throughout Florida, operating in 430 intersections. In the city of Jacksonville, there are 37 red light cameras.
Red light camera violations
During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, there were 1,227,927 notices of red light camera violations issued in Florida. Of those:
- 105,373 were contested
- 46,323 were dropped
- 21,530 were upheld
- 37,520 were still pending when these numbers were released
Of the 1,227,927 notices of violations issued, 150,659 were issued to repeat offenders.
Who reviews red light camera images?
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, when jurisdictions were asked who reviews the camera images before issuing notices of violations to drivers, a majority were sworn law enforcement officers.
- Law enforcement officer: 48
- Non-sworn government employee: 23
- Non-sworn contractor employee (vendor): 7
- Other: 3
Red light camera vendors
There are several different private red light camera vendors operating in Florida. However, the largest company is American Traffic Solutions, which operates in 46 different jurisdictions throughout the state.
While the Florida Supreme Court is reviewing laws and the constitutionality of red light cameras, other complaints the high court is looking at stem from the relationship between government agencies and the private companies that manage them.