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Comptroller Susana Mendoza To Halt Program Helping Suburbs Collect Red Light Camera Fines; Calls System 'Clearly Broken'

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said her office will stop helping Chicago suburbs collect unpaid fines for red light camera violations, amid a federal investigation into a major red light camera company.

"My office is taking decisive action in response to unethical arrangements that have come to light regarding the red-light camera industry," Mendoza announced in a press release on Monday. "As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken. I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers."

A state law passed in 2006 allows suburbs to install red light cameras, and since 2012 the state comptroller's office has been authorized to help local governments collect unpaid tickets, largely by withholding state income tax refunds. The comptroller's office does not help the city of Chicago collect unpaid fines from its red light tickets.

Starting Feb. 6, Mendoza's office will stop helping local governments collect on red light camera tickets altogether.

The move comes amid a federal investigation connected to red light company SafeSpeed.

Last September, federal agents raided Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval's offices and his home. Days later, the feds also raided the village halls in suburban McCook and Lyons. According to copies of the warrants from those raids, among other things, agents were searching for evidence related to SafeSpeed.

According to published reports, several government officials also have doubled as contractors for SafeSpeed, and have collected commissions based on the number of red light camera tickets paid in certain suburbs.

"This kind of arrangement stinks -- it's plain rotten," Mendoza said. "It exploits taxpayers and especially those who struggle to pay the fines imposed, often the working poor and communities of color. We can't continue the practice of municipal employees directly pocketing cash from contracts they arrange."

Mendoza noted minority and low-income drivers are hardest hit by red light camera tickets, noting the $100 fines can double or triple if not paid on time. Drivers also can lose their licenses if they can't pay their fines, which for many means they risk losing their job.

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