Jury convicts ex-Chicago official of taking bribes to steer red-light camera contracts

Updated 1/26/2016 3:18 PM

CHICAGO - A federal jury convicted a former Chicago transportation official on Tuesday for taking bribes to steer $100 million in red-light camera contracts to a Phoenix company.

Jurors returned with guilty verdicts on all 20 counts against John Bills, the former second-in-command at Chicago's Department of Transportation. Bills was accused of accepting envelopes stuffed with cash, along with gifts -- including condos in two states and a Mercedes -- to help Redflex Traffic Systems obtain contracts in a decade-long scheme.


During closing arguments Monday, U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon detailed hotels stays, golf trips, an Arizona condominium, a Chicago apartment and a Mercedes given to Bills for his efforts.

Defense attorney Nishay Sanan told jurors in his closing arguments that the money actually went to "lobbyists who funneled it upstairs," tossing out names including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"You don't give that kind of money to a guy like John Bills. You give it to people who can get things done," Sanan told jurors, who began deliberating Monday.

No elected officials have been implicated by prosecutors in the scheme. Fardon called Sanan's contention "malarkey," and prosecutors showed emails in which Bills described his efforts for Redflex.

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"The idea that lobbyists were paid to funnel money to people like Mike Madigan and Ed Burke and Rahm Emanuel is pretty grandiose, but there is not one single shred of evidence that supports any of it," Fardon said.

Martin O'Malley, who was hired as a Redflex consultant, testified that he passed envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash at a time to Bills at a restaurant. O'Malley has pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme.

"Sometimes there would be other people there with us, but they couldn't tell what was happening," O'Malley told jurors during the trial.

O'Malley said he collected about $2 million in bogus commissions during the 10-year conspiracy. He said Redflex paid him a commission every time a new camera system was installed in Chicago.

Former Redflex executive Karen Finley also has pleaded guilty to related charges. She is scheduled for sentencing this year.

Emanuel canceled Redflex's contract in 2013 following the Chicago Tribune's reports about the alleged bribery scheme. Bills retired from his job as Chicago's managing deputy commissioner of transportation in 2011. He was charged in 2014.

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