Missouri city accused of extortion after driver forced to pay ex - KCTV5

Missouri city accused of extortion after driver forced to pay extra fee for speeding ticket

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The attorney for a St. Louis County woman is accusing a small town north of Hannibal, MO of extorting extra fees from drivers. (Credit: KMOV) The attorney for a St. Louis County woman is accusing a small town north of Hannibal, MO of extorting extra fees from drivers. (Credit: KMOV)
ST. LOUIS, MO (KMOV) -

The lawyer for a local driver who was ticketed for speeding in a small town north of Hannibal says the city tried to force his client to pay an extra $100 fee for a speeding ticket.  

Janine Hofer of St. Louis County was ticketed in Palmyra for going 72 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone along Highway 61. She does not dispute the ticket. In an effort to avoid getting points on her driving record she contacted an attorney, Scott Heitland.

Heitland contacted the Palmyra city prosecutor to ask that the charge be amended. The prosecutor agreed to amend the speeding charge to an equipment violation if Hofer paid a fine of $192.50 and $27.50 in court costs, for a total of $220.  Heitland says Hofer did not have a problem with that.  

Heitland says the prosecutor also wanted Hofer to pay what he called a "voluntary" donation of $100 to what he called the "law enforcement fund," making the grand total for the ticket $320.

Heitland says that made the offer illegal because a new Missouri law caps fines and fees for minor traffic offenses at $225. So, he advised Hofer not to pay the $100 "donation."  

When Hofer sent in her payment of $220, it was rejected.

"In plain speak what I could do is make an argument they are extorting money for garden-variety traffic tickets," Heitland said.

KMOV-TV contacted Palmyra city prosecutor, James Lemon. He denies the accusation of any attempt to extort extra money, telling KMOV this was an error on his part, saying, "I would agree this offer should not have been made.There's no question an offer was made at my error."  

Lemon claims he misread Hofer's original ticket, believing she had been driving more than 20 miles over the posted speed limit, which he says would have moved the citation out of the minor violation range, allowing for higher fines.

Heitland disputes that, pointing out that the offer letter from Palmyra clearly states she was clocked at 72 miles per hour. Ultimately, Hofer did not have to pay the $100 donation.

KMOV has learned that nearly $18,000 was collected for the Palmyra law enforcement fund between January 2016 and July 2017. The city clerk told KMOV those contributions come mainly from voluntary donations and court-ordered payments.  

KMOV has requested additional public records from the city of Palmyra regarding requests for donations to the law enforcement funds.

Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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