Florida Highway Patrol trooper accused in fake-ticket scheme
A veteran trooper stands accused of writing hundreds of fake tickets to scores of drivers.
(MIAMI HERALD) The trooper’s victims were befuddled when they learned they had pending traffic tickets.
Most weren’t even on the road during the time of their supposed infractions, they told prosecutors. One said his wife was driving the car that day. Another had just returned from a trip to Illinois. A third hadn’t even been in the United States for two years — he was in the midst of a divorce dispute in Peru.
Now the Florida Highway Patrol trooper who issued those tickets is being written up himself, accused of trying to boost his ticket output by writing hundreds of fake citations to scores of drivers.
Paul C. Lawrence, 38, an FHP trooper based in Miami-Dade County, was arrested Tuesday on 22 counts of official misconduct, a third-degree felony. In addition, 203 traffic citations that Lawrence issued since November have been dismissed.
Prosecutors think there might be even more.
The 22 counts are related to eight specific incidents this winter, according to the arrest affidavit. Three of the motorists received letters saying the citations were serious enough to have their licenses suspended.
In each case, Lawrence used information from drivers whom he had previously stopped. Then he manufactured new charges. The citations were not signed by the alleged drivers.
Prosecutors said Lawrence started writing the false tickets to boost the number of citations he was reporting to his bosses. In November alone, he submitted 397 citations to FHP — 82 of them missing a signature.
An FHP spokesman said there was no incentive him to do that because FHP does not use quotas.
Writing tickets is “just our job. It’s what we’re supposed to go out and do,” said Capt. Mark Welch, who is based in Tallahassee.
Capt. Marshall Davies, of Troop E in Miami-Dade County, noticed something was amiss two days before Thanksgiving, documents show. That day, five people called to complain they were being solicited by traffic ticket clinics for citations they knew nothing about.
Lawrence, an FHP trooper for 15 years, has been placed on administrative duty “pending termination,” FHP wrote in a statement. He could not be reached for comment.
Two of the citations went to E. Derron Bowen, a University of Miami Law School student.
“My law professors were flabbergasted when I told them about this,” said Bowen, 34, who was cited for driving without a seat belt and without a license.
“The ticket just seemed too perfect to have been written accidentally — with the name and model of my car. I was willing to write it off as one of those crazy, inexplicable things, and now I’m absolutely shocked.”