Company behind Minneapolis, St. Paul parking meters accused of bribery

After an outcry from businesses, the city of St. Paul has dropped a plan to install parking meters along Grand Avenue. City leaders were hoping to make about $800,000 per year from the meters, and argued it would benefit businesses by creating turnover of parking spaces.

The Fox 9 Investigators have learned there are some serious questions about the Florida company behind those proposed meters, and it has to do with allegations of employees bribing officials in other cities.

There are nearly 1,000 automated parking meters in the Twin Cities, with more to come. But when they signed contracts, city officials in both St. Paul and Minneapolis were apparently unaware that parking meter company Cale would soon be in serious trouble, accused of bribing city officials in Portland and Chicago to get contracts.  

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is making good on his promise to increase patrols for parking violations, after a town hall meeting where neighbors and businesses were furious over the plan to add parking meters. Council member Dave Thune heard them loud and clear, telling Fox 9 he's killing the parking meter plan. 

“At this point I’m going to make and urge the mayor to not order the meters,” Thune said.

But the Grand Avenue Business Association had also started raising questions about the company behind the meters. In Portland, Ore., Cale's American distributor George Levey pled guilty this summer to bribing a city parking official for $60,000 so he would rig the bid.  Levey is believed to be cooperating with the FBI as it investigates whether he also gave $90,000 in kickbacks to a Chicago parking official. 

It just so happens, George Levey also signed the contract for Cale meters in Minneapolis in 2010, around the same time he was bribing officials in Portland. Cale recently put 2 others on leave as it conducts an internal investigation, including its director of sales, Ryan Bonardi, who it just so happens signed the contract with St. Paul.

When the city of Minneapolis signed its deal 5 years ago, no one knew about the payoffs in Portland -- the story hadn't broken yet. But they did know about it when they amended the contract 3 years ago. A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis says they knew about, it was part of their review, but they went ahead with the amended contract anyway.

The parking meter contracts are certainly lucrative, for both parties. In Minneapolis, 640 Cale kiosks brought in $8,452,777 so far this year. Fees paid to Cale come to $314,950. In St. Paul, 180 Cale kiosks have brought in $1,645,319. Cale's fees come to $104,999.

St. Paul relied on Minneapolis to vet the company.  Council member Thune told us he was unaware of any controversy involving Cale. 

At least for now, Grand Avenue will get its wish -- no parking meters. But the controversy may have also placed a major contractor in both cities under the microscope.

Fox 9 reached out to Cale multiple times for comment, but never heard back. A spokesperson for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he was unaware of these allegations against the company until we brought it to their attention.