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Passionate advocate of red light cameras wants to sell them, too

ST. PETERSBURG — On April 1, Robbie Marsade couldn't have been more convincing.

The City Council was voting on whether to approve the use of cameras to nab motorists who don't stop at red lights. Three residents spoke against the cameras, saying the cash-strapped city's real motivation was to make money.

But then, in a personal testimonial, Marsade told the council that the cameras were about saving lives, not raising revenue.

"My brother was killed by a speeder," said Marsade. "This person was driving so fast through red lights that the emergency medical service had to make a second trip to the car to get the other half. Now, do you want to apologize to me for not enforcing this law, and say, 'Well, you know, some people say it's a revenue generator?' "

Yet, in this graphic plea that was televised to thousands of homes, Marsade failed to disclose that he was in the business of selling cameras to cities. After the council voted 7-1 vote to approve cameras, Marsade met individually with council members to promote his company, Mobile Video Violation Detection Co.

He had already met with Mayor Bill Foster, who supports the cameras, before the vote.

No other vendor has made such a blatant appeal for support with the city. Now that state lawmakers have approved a bill that legalizes the cameras, Foster and the council must decide if the city will install and operate the cameras itself or hire a contractor — like Marsade.

Camera contracts can be quite lucrative because the vendor gets a percentage of the fines.

Marsade, 42, who lives near Crescent Lake, was the only one from the public to speak in favor the cameras at the hearing. He said this week that he didn't think it was necessary to mention that he potentially had a financial interest in the vote.

"It really wasn't the place for it," Marsade said. "The purpose for me to attend the meeting was to make sure the law was enforced."

He said he has only recently gone into the red light camera business. His business model is a bit different, placing cameras in vans that can shoot video of red light running and other traffic offenses.

His company isn't registered with the Florida Division of Corporations. Yet council member Karl Nurse said that Marsade told him in their meeting that his cameras were used in several other cities.

Not exactly, Marsade said.

"I'm working with other cities in Illinois and Arizona," he said.

In what capacity?

"I'm bidding on contracts in these states," he said.

But Marsade wouldn't say which cities, claiming it was privileged information.

In the same interview, Marsade repeated that the cameras were important to him because of his brother.

"The EMTs had to make a second trip to get his legs," Marsade said.

But when asked about the crash, Marsade refused to provide details. He said his brother's name was Sammy but wouldn't spell it or confirm that he had the same last name.

"It's been a while," Marsade said when asked when the crash happened. He wouldn't give a year or the name of the city or county where it happened.

"Please don't ask that question again," Marsade said. "I'd like to keep it private. It's a very sensitive subject to me."

Using the last name of Marsade, the Times searched for any mentions of a child or adult killed by an automobile. Robbie Marsade's background check does not show a relative of the correct age to be a deceased brother. A search of newspapers through the Lexis-Nexis publication database found only 2 mentions of that name, both about Robbie.

Since that database of newspapers goes back only to the mid 1990s, the Times also checked the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times historical archive for any occurrence of the name Marsade.

Nothing came up. Additionally, the Social Security Death Index shows no person in the entire nation who has died with that last name.

When Marsade was told that his brother's name didn't exist in the public records reviewed by Times, he still refused to provide more detail.

"I have to leave some things quiet," Marsade said. "When the timing is right, I'll talk about it."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

. Fast Facts

What's next?

The Legislature's approval of a bill allowing cities and counties to install red light cameras now awaits Gov. Charlie Crist's signature. Once signed, St. Petersburg will launch its program. But there are still some unknowns, like:

Who will install and operate the cameras?

Transportation director Joe Kubicki says he will provide three options to the City Council: the city does it; a vendor does it; or a city and a vendor do it together, splitting duties such as billing and collections, maintenance and installation. If the city goes it alone, it doesn't have to share the revenue with a vendor. But it would have to employ a staff to monitor it and carry the risk of technology getting outdated, Kubicki said.

Which intersections will get the cameras?

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said that crash data will be reviewed over the coming weeks to determine which intersections get the cameras, or how many are needed.

When do the cameras get installed?

Kubicki said he plans to issue a report to the City Council in the next month that will outline the options. If the city decides to choose a vendor, it will take weeks to bid out. If the city goes it alone, it might be sooner. Still, it's not clear when, or if, motorists need to worry about the eye in the sky over St. Petersburg streets.

Passionate advocate of red light cameras wants to sell them, too 04/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 1:16am]

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