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Utah probing iffy traffic tickets to tourists in Springdale

Published September 18, 2012 7:17 am

Audit • Town has repaid $7,200 in traffic fines so far.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The town of Springdale has paid about $7,200 in restitution and is determining if more money is owed for years of illegal or unrecorded tickets written to foreign visitors and others.

Meanwhile, the Utah Attorney General's Office is conducting a criminal investigation into the Springdale ticketing practices, which were disclosed in a state audit released in June. Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, said the investigation is ongoing and did not provide further details.

Springdale Town Manager Rick Wixom said the town has paid the state $5,247.75 and paid $1,955.04 to the Hurricane Justice Court. That settles what Springdale should have paid to the state and court for undocumented tickets written in 2011.

Wixom said the town council has directed him to hire a certified public accountant who will review tickets written as far back as 2005. That may reveal that more money is owed to the state and Hurricane court, he said. Wixom said he is waiting for proposals from qualified accountants.

"The council has asked for an independent look at the matter," Wixom said.

On June 11, the Utah State Auditor issued a report saying that for years when Springdale police encountered a foreigner suspected of an offense, the officer would require the visitor to pay cash on the spot. Springdale sits at the south entrance to Zion National Park, and a bulk of the park's 2.8 million annual visitors pass through town.

In a response to the audit, Springdale claimed it always gave people the option of going to court, and the practice with foreign visitors was approved years ago by a judge at the Hurricane Justice Court, which also adjudicates Springdale cases. The court has denied that, and the audit found no evidence of such approval. Even if Springdale received such approval, the practice was still illegal, the audit said.

The audit also found a wider problem of Springdale not documenting tickets and citations and failing to forward due percentages of the fines to the state and Hurricane Justice Court. The audit said it reviewed 423 citations issued over a 13-month period and 138 were missing from Springdale police records. A police officer could have pocketed the cash in any of those 138, the audit said.

In a written response to the audit, Springdale said it has stopped the questioned practices. Springdale police also provide protection to Rockville and Virgin. The city of Springdale's website says the police department has three full-time officers plus reserve officers.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle