Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Riverdale Park Says Public Cannot Challenge Fraud

The Town of Riverdale Park has requested the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that the town speed camera program committed FRAUD by allowing civilians to approve citations bearing the signature of a police officer who never signed or reviewed the tickets.

In a 129 page motion, the Riverdale Park asserted that the plaintiffs have no legal right to pursue their claim against the city on six separate grounds --NONE OF WHICH CHALLENGED THE ACCUSATION THAT A POLICE OFFICER'S NAME WAS FORGED ON THOUSANDS OF SPEED CAMERA TICKETS HE DID NOT REVIEW.

The first basis for dismissal which the town claimed, was regarding the recent case Baker v Montgomery, where the state high court basically ruled that speed camera agencies are above the law and can't be sued, regarding the issue of contingent fee contracts.  As we anticipated when that ruling came out, it is now being used as a basis to condone blatantly illegal actions by a local government.  Second, the town asserts that only Riverdale Park residents can assert standing as 'taxpayers'.  Third and fourth, they claim the defendants did not comply with the 180 day time limit in the "Local Government Tort Claims Act", a law which limits the public's right to sue the government. Fifth, they defend their right to issue citations from a device which --- according to it's manufacturer -- does not provide visually conformable evidence of speed. 

NONE of these challenge the basic allegation that town officials and Optotraffic committed fraud by forging the signature of a police officer who did not review the citations.

As Mr Leahy, attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote:  "Defendants do not deny that their employees reviewed speed camera citations and caused the forged signature of Corporal Clayton Alford to appear on thousands of illegally issued citations.  Nor do Defendants offer to pay back the money they illegally obtained by issuing illegal and fraudulent citations to Maryland citizens and drivers"..."Defendants have determined that their employees can break the law, forge the name of a police officer, and keep any money their illegal acts have put in their pockets.  Have they no sense of decency?  No sense that they serve the taxpayers and don't exist to break the law and take our money?  At long last, have they no sense of decency"

The attorney for the plaintiff argued that this claim was fundamentally different from Baker v Montgomery because forgery is illegal regardless of the requirements for speed cameras : "In the case at bar, it is only incidental to the complaint that the statute requires a police officer to review and sign speed monitoring citations.  The gravamen of the Complaint is that citations were issued which were never reviewed by a police officer, which bore a forged police signature, and were issued with the intent to deprive citizens of their money through fines the defendants knew were illegal.  Even if there were was no 21-809 authorizing speed camera citations, defendants could still be criminally guilty of, and certainly civilly liable for, common law fraud, common law forgery, theft (including Obtaining Control by Deception), and Counterfeiting (including Issuing a Counterfeit Document and False Making or Alteration).  Defendant's forgery and the issuance of forged citations, was illegal under many statues and common law claims..."

The town also asserted that the claim was invalid because the local government tort claims act required them to bring their claim within 180 days of the town's alleged fraud.  As Mr Leahy wrote:  "None of the Plaintiffs hereto had personal knowledge that they had the claims asserted in the Complaint until Corporal Alford came forward...and blew the whistle on what he considered the illegal and Fraudulent activities of the Defendants.  Given that the defendants "hid" the cause o faction from the Plaintiffs, there was no way for the Plaintiffs to timely comply with the notice provisions of the L.G.T.C.A.  By the notice actually given and received in form of this Complaint, the Defendants sole posession of the critical information relevant to the core issues in this suit, and the absence of any showing by the Defendants of any prejudice, the statutory waiver provision of 5-304(d) should apply."
... "because fraud and illegality only became known to the Plaintiffs and the public at large in August 2012, it was impossible for Plaintiffs to assert this illegality as a defense at any Court hearing and should not be prevented from asserting this claim now"

Riverdale Park's request for dismissal stated that "a plaintiff is entitled to restitution for unjust enrichment if the defendant received a benefit and it would be unconscionable for the defendant retain that benefit.", claiming that collecting a fine issued to someone who was speeding cannot be unconscionable (the town did not say "accused of" speeding -- presumably because nobody has ever gotten an erroneous citation -- even though StopBigBrotherMD.org is in possession of documents from Riverdale Park indicating that is not so).  Leahy Replied "In this case, it would be unconscionable for the defendant to retain that benefit[...]  What is unconscionable is that a government would knowingly violate the Statute, forge a police officer's signature, and issue citations it knew to be illegal to collect fines it knew it was illegal for it to collect."

Riverdale Park actually compared speed camera fines to a tax, claiming that "once a taxpayer voluntarily pays a tax or other government charge, under a mistake of law or under what he regards as an illegal imposition, no common law action lies for the recovery of the tax absent a special statutory provision sanctioning a refund".  Plaintiffs responded that this claim "pertains to a municipality taxing a plaintiff taxpayers for services provided to the residents of that municipality, as opposed to the current case where a municipality was knowingly and fraudulently issuing forged citations to motorists who drove through Riverdale"

Plaintiffs argued that forged signatures resulted in ticket recipients being misled about the authenticity of the documents and the facts they alleged :  "in the citation attached to Plaintiffs Complaint in Exhibit 2, under the "Certificate" heading, a reasonable person would believe that the citation was in fact inspected and verified by Corporal Alford.  It would not have been public knowledge that Corporal Alford was, in fact, on disability as a result of surgery and not able to validate the citation."

The Plaintiffs assert that speed camera contractor Optotraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation, were culpable and liable as well because they mailed the citations which they knew were falsely approved:  "Optotraffic's failure to reject citations it knew contain a forged signature of a police officer means that they are a direct participant in the fraud committed on the Plaintiffs as well as a conspirator"

The primary basis for the Baker v Montgomery decision which Riverdale Park now attempts to hide behind, is that paying a citation is an "admission of guilt".   However one of the plaintiffs DID in fact write an email to the town on Feb 2, 2011, alleging that her citation was in error and that the recorded speed was inaccurate.  That email was distributed to two of the Riverdale Park employees who allegedly approved the citation, according to the recipient list on the emails.

StopBigBrotherMD.org is also in possession of an email from another motorists who had written to the town on March 23rd, 2011 and who specifically received his ticket during the period when the officer whose name was used was on leave and therefore not signing citations himself, using a time-distance calculation to show that his 24 foot box truck could not have been traveling the recorded speed.  That motorists replied to us in an email months before the alleged fraud by the town became public were known:
"I never got any response from the Riverdale Park PD or Mayor.  I did pay the ticket because I could not justify loosing a day's pay for $40.
I have pretty much decided to let it go...  I have to drive through Riverdale Park  twice a day and they could make my life hell if I pissed them off.  Remember they need no pretext to stop a truck.  They could stop me for DOT safety inspections every day if they wanted to."
Were THESE motorists admitting guilt?

Unfortunately Maryland law, and courts, totally favor the state over The People, so it is entirely possible that the court WILL rule that Riverdale Park and Optotraffic allowed to forge signatures on official documents, even though for the rest of us forging a signature on  false statement could mean ten years in jail under Maryland law.  OR, the court could do what is right an hold those guilty of fraud accountable.

Read Plaintiff's response to motion for dismissal


Update 6/12/2013: The court has dismissed the lawsuit against the town.  In their request for summary judgement, Riverdale Park DID NOT DISPUTE the factual basis of the claims that citations were approved by an officer who did not review or approve the tickets.  Rather, the court ruled that The People cannot file suit against a speed camera program FOR ANY REASON because the law does not explicitly authorize the government to be sued -- regardless of whether the town's activities were illegal. READ COURT RULING.   This is based on a prior court ruling filed on a different basis which drew the same conclusion, that speed camera programs are not subject to being sued under Maryland law REGARDLESS OF THE FACTUAL OR LEGAL BASIS FOR THE SUIT.