RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Morrisville maker of electronic devices intended to thwart drunken drivers filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the top official at the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.
In its suit, Monitech Inc. says DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson broke state bidding rules by withholding the renewal of its state contract.
Since 1989 the company has been the state's sole provider of ignition interlocks, which test the breath of convicted drunken drivers for alcohol before they can start their vehicles. The devices are often mandated for people convicted of a DWI to keep their driving privileges.
Monitech owner Jerry Mobley declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
A DMV spokeswoman said Robertson was not available for comment.
Mobley has previously alleged he faced retaliation from DMV officials after he refused in 2004 to sell his business to Law Enforcement Associates, a firm whose investors included then-Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. The Fayetteville Democrat was co-chairman of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, which oversaw DWI prevention programs.
A close political ally of Rand's, then-DMV commissioner George Tatum, also owned LEA stock with his wife. Tatum was the state official with the ultimate authority to renew Monitech's contract with the state.
More than a dozen elected officials and their family members have owned LEA stock, including former Gov. Mike Easley, current Gov. Bev Perdue and her husband. Records also show that state agencies purchased at least $192,683 in surveillance equipment from the small company, much of it bought without seeking competitive bids.
Though the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday mentions the issue with LEA, the complaint primarily challenges the technical reasons under which current DMV chief Robertson has declined to give Monitech a new 3-year contract.
In recent years Monitech has faced a challenge from an out-of-state competitor, Smart Start Inc. of Texas. That company sued DMV in state court in 2010, alleging the state's bid requirements were written in a way that only Monitech could win.
Currently, Monitech is providing the devices on a month-to-month DMV contract; an arraignment the lawsuit claims puts the company at a competitive disadvantage and impedes its ability to secure business loans.