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Bribery Convictions Won't Shut Off Chicago's Red Light Cameras

Former city commissioner gets 10 years for taking $2 million bribe, while Chicago made $285 million from red light cams last year.

Jose M. Osorio/TNS/NewscomJose M. Osorio/TNS/NewscomA former Chicago city official is heading to prison after getting caught taking $2 million in bribes from a red light camera company.

John Bills, former deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, was sentenced on Thursday to 10 years in federal prison for taking bribes from Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australia-based company. Bills was found guilty in January of having accepted cash, a new Mercedes car and an Arizona condo from Redflex in return for helping the company secure a $100 million contract with the city of Chicago.

"Every bribe that is taken, every kickback that is tendered or received, every amount of cash that is pocketed further erodes the rule of law," U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It erodes faith in our government, and that takes years to rebuild."

The Tribune said the sentence was one of the toughest ever handed down to a non-elected public official convicted of corruption.

Bills will soon have company behind bars. Martin O'Malley (no, not that Martin O'Malley), a personal friend of Bills' who admitted acting as a "bagman" to deliver Manilla envelops full of cash to Bills on behalf of Redflex, is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the scheme later this month. Also convicted and awaiting sentencing is former Redflex CEO Karen Finley.

Before the contract was terminated by the city in 2013 (after the Tribune exposed the how Redflex had bought influence from city officials), it was the most lucrative red light camera deal in the country. At one point, Chicago's red light cameras provided 20 percent of Redflex's revenue, even though the company operated similar automatic enforcement devices in dozens of American cities. Redflex also benefitted from the publicity of having a contract with Chicago and used that deal to help convince other cities to acquire similar programs, prosecutors said when they brought the case against Bills in 2014.

The bribery convictions won't stop Chicago from using the lucrative red light cameras.

In 2015 alone, Chicago made more than $285 million from more than 2.2 million tickets issued by the red light cameras installed at 149 intersections across the city. Chicago also has more than 300 speed cameras that bring in about $15 million in revenue each year.

Even though city officials say the cameras are meant to improve safety at dangerous intersections, there's little evidence they actually do that. A Chicago Tribune investigation published in 2014 found that 40 percent of the cameras installed during Chicago's decade-long contract with RedFlex were actually increasing the frequency of traffic accidents and resulting injuries. Studies in other cities—including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and elsewhere—have found a similar uptick in rear-end crashes at intersections with red light cameras, likely caused by drivers who are slamming on the brakes to avoid a ticket instead of proceeding safely through the intersection.

That's just what happens when the cameras are working properly. An apparent malfuction affecting some of Chicago's red light cameras in the summer of 2011 resulted in huge spikes in the number of tickets issued—one camera spit out 560 tickets in 12 days after issuing just 100 tickets in the previous six months. The city's traffic court tossed out about half of those tickets, but the whole incident was made more suspicious by the fact that Redflex did not notify city officials that anything unusual had happened (officials claimed they learned about the problem when reporters asked about it).

Bills isn't the first person to go to jail for helping red light camera companies grease the skids.

John Raphael, a lobbyist for Redflex, was sentenced to prison last week for soliciting bribes to city councilmen in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio. Shawn Brown, former mayor of Saint Peters, Missouri, served a year in prison after taking a bribe from Redflex in 2006. Jay Morris Specter, another Redflex lobbyist, was convicted in 2007 of committing fraud.

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  • ||

    Doesn't (((Renegade))) live near there?

    I bet he's behind this. Because, you know, Jews, money.

  • commodious readies for the end||

    He's busy converting dollars to sheckles in his head.

  • DOOMco||

    Nice new handle.

  • SugarFree||

    "Every bribe that is taken, every kickback that is tendered or received, every amount of cash that is pocketed further erodes the rule of law,"

    "But let's keep the cameras in place because I like rubbing my balls with stolen money."

  • Cliché Bandit||

    The apathy of success. Just look at George Martin...lazy fucker.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    He has one foot in the grave at all times? I am sorry to hear that.

  • Citizen X||

    Richard Nixon and the rotting corpse of Margaret Sanger. Do try to keep up.

  • SugarFree||

    My stories are always exactly as long as they need to be.

  • FreeToFear||

    sigh.... that's what she said....

  • The Fusionist||

    "It erodes faith in our government, and that takes years to rebuild."

    Don't worry, your honor, the people of Chicago have retained their faith in government in the face of overwhelming corruption extending back over a century.

    Do you think they'll suddenly abandon their faith *now,* just because of a crooked contract?

  • IWasADemocrat||

    "The bribery convictions won't stop Chicago from using the lucrative red light cameras."

    The bribery convictions certainly won't stop future bribes either.

    Rather than thinking about how unethical and criminal bribing is, people will just try to figure out how these people got caught.

    The vast majority of the population still insist that Big Government isn't the cause though; because as long as we have the 'right' people, then the system works really well.

  • Jerryskids||

    Chicago's been rebuilding faith in government since before the cops framed Mrs. O'Leary's cow for the fire.

  • Johnny Hit n Run Paulene||

    So a moral of the story is that the prosecution wins and the prosecution wins. As ever.

  • Jerryskids||

    A former Chicago city official is heading to prison after getting caught taking $2 million in bribes from a red light camera company.

    Well no shit he's going to prison - the most serious crime you can commit in Chicago is to get caught. Everybody knows this.

  • commodious readies for the end||

    Being that this is Chicago, the judge no doubt is wrapping himself in civic virtue to obscure his own questionable finances.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Herself you misogynistic pig.

  • commodious voted for Kodos||

    I don't attribute gender to anyone. I just assume they self-identify as the superior one.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Everyone seems to be focusing on the faith restoration in Chicago politics quote, but I ask you, if they hadn't rebuilt faith in government, would any of us get worked so up about what this government judge had to say?

    Ah-HA! Caught in your own trap!

  • The Fusionist||

    "But if Captain Kirk is a liar, but he says he lies, then he is telling the truth, but if he's telling the truth, he's a liar, but...but...but...OMG MY CIRCUITS ARE OVERHEATING"

  • R C Dean||

    Quantum indeterminacy FTW!

  • commodious readies for the end||

    "Every bribe that is taken, every kickback that is tendered or received, every amount of cash that is pocketed further erodes the rule of law," U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It erodes faith in our government, and that takes years to rebuild."

    But how else are our civil servants supposed to earn their just compensation for years of thankless toil?

  • GILMORE™||

    even though the company operated similar automatic enforcement devices in dozens of American cities

    Which leads me to wonder = how many of these other cities have looked into their own contracts, and the people who were empowered to grant them?

  • BYODB||

    It sounds like the FBI is basically doing exactly that looking at the last paragraph, but yeah. A company that pulled something like this once did it a hundred times I would imagine.

  • esteve7||

    so the cameras are going away right?

    Red light camera do nothing to make anyone safer, it's all about revenue. They even shorten the yellow lights after implementing them, which is more dangerous, so they can snag more people

  • ||

    Louisiana has mostly done away with them. Since you cant face your accuser in court it isnt a criminal offense, rather a civil one. The city (Lafayette I think is the only one left) sends you a bill. If you refuse to pay they sell it to a collection company. When they contact you demand to see where you entered into a contract with the city thus nullifying the whole affair.

  • Brochettaward||

    All of that bribe money should be redistributed out to the taxpayers. I mean, if government is just things we all do together, then this bribe money belongs to each and every tax payer in Chicago and they deserve their cut.

  • ||

    Good grief. I took my 4 yo grandson to the bookstore this morning. He picked out a Pete the Cat and There is an Alligator Under my Bed. Then we went and ate a pizza. Darn, while I was doing that I missed the shit flinging in the immigration thread. Dammit.

    *shakes fist*

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "It erodes faith in our government, and that takes years to rebuild."

    Pass this bond measure to help us rebuild your faith in our government!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    My take: Redflex is hiring.

    *polishes up bagman credentials*

  • The Fusionist||

    Bah, bagmen are so crude, no wonder they get caught.

    As for me, I'm going shopping. I can get some great deals at Alderman Jones' stationary shop...ooh, look, a $1,000 pencil, and a $10,000 pencil sharpener!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I think your bag has been worked enough.

  • The Fusionist||

    That was Crusty's old bag. Guess what he has now?

  • The Fusionist||

    That's not a nice thing to call James Brown.

  • Citizen X||

    It's understandable, though.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Bills was found guilty in January of having accepted cash, a new Mercedes car and an Arizona condo from Redflex in return for helping the company secure a $100 million contract with the city of Chicago."

    What he should have done was set up a charitable foundation with himself and his family members as board members.

  • ||

    ^This.

    The thinest veil allows these sacks o' shit to rake in the cash. It is just the ones who don't bother with even a minimal effort (Blago) who get caught.

    I haven't heard a single journalist talk about how many in DC have charitable foundations. I know damned well Clinton didn't invent that scam.

  • ||

    Ironically, "blago" in Russian means, "blessing," ,"boon," or, "benefit." So, yeah.

  • ||

    Hey, at least there were no bribes involved.

    According to CDOT, there are about 3,000 intersections that have crosswalk signals, and about 400 of those have active push buttons. Luann Hamilton, Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, says the city doesn't know how many crosswalks might have legacy buttons that are disabled.

    So, after all the dust settles, an unknown number hovering than 10% work to the overall effect of frustrating motorists and pedestrians into crossing at inopportune times and in unfavorable conditions. Faith restored!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • ||

    Also, it will be interesting to see if the bloodbath ensues this weekend.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    It will be a bloodbath no matter what.

  • ||

    Apparently, community organizers and activists are 'counter protesting' and vocally committing to policing themselves.

    Considering the new police chief has to be seen taking a hard line on police misconduct and the Mayor is fucking around with Police oversight; if they succeed in either keeping the murder rate down, getting a few officers fired, or both I think it would pretty decidedly qualify for 'Libertarian Moment Of The Year'.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    The other fucked up thing about red light cameras is that they keep adjusting the time-in-yellow down to catch more and more people, causing a real collision hazard. Again, that epitome of egalitarianism, Chicago.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They put a red light camera in at the bottom of my hill and while anecdotal, I saw more accidents, more near-accidents, and more vehicle-pedestrian near/misses in six months than the previous 10 years I'd lived there.

    The most worrisome were of course the vehicle-pedestrian near-misses. Seattle Drivers are genetically predisposed to be retarded, so they don't understand the get-in-the-fucking-middle-of-the-intersection concept when taking an unprotected left.

    Pedestrians crossing (legally) on left side of intersection, dumbass Seattle driver trying to take unprotected left, knows red light camera is installed, now performs spastic mad left turn dive in desperate bid to execute left turn-- but eyes are on oncoming traffic) and nearly creams four or five pedestrians in crosswalk.

    Thankfully, they changed the intersection to have a protected (arrow-driven) left turn and most of the problems have gone away. Which proved to me the issue was, put in a fucking protected left-- the red light camera doesn't fix the problem.

  • BYODB||

    Corruption in Chicago politics? I'm sure that started only after Obama left town...


    As for the red light camera's? They're clearly all about revenue, and only about revenue. There isn't any denying that.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Bribery Convictions Won't Shut Off Chicago's Red Light Cameras
    Former city commissioner gets 10 years for taking $2 million bribe, while Chicago made $285 million from red light cams last year.

    This was not a bribe.
    It was a political campaign contribution.
    I'm surprised the judge didn't know the difference.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    +1 Clinton Foundation.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Bribery Convictions Won't Shut Off Chicago's Red Light Cameras
    Former city commissioner gets 10 years for taking $2 million bribe, while Chicago made $285 million from red light cams last year.

    There was no corruption here.
    This was not a bribe.
    This was a political campaign contribution.
    I'm surprised the judge didn't know the difference, especially since he works in Chicago.
    Mayor Daley must be rolling over in his grave.

  • toolkien||

    Yes! How do we rebuild trust when we go about our piracy?

  • R C Dean||

    I see the pol, and the bagman, got nailed.

    Who else from RedFlex is being prosecuted? Because there ought to be a bunch more people they can jail for this.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    100% of tickets from RedFlex cameras should be overturned with full refunds to each person who paid, with interest.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Also convicted and awaiting sentencing is former Redflex CEO Karen Finley.

  • SIV||

  • SIV||

  • SIV||

    (no, not that Karen Finley)


    I can't find a suitably NSFW performance of her signature work Yams Up My Granny's Ass

  • SIV||

  • R C Dean||

    How did I miss that?

  • Bubba Jones||

    My town took out the red light cameras because people stopped running lights and they were losing money.

    The only reason they put most of them in was that the state was planning to ban them with a grandfather clause.

    What really struck me about this story was a conversation I had with a Clinton supporter. He gave Clinton a pass on corruption because her interests were aligned with the country's.

    This is similar. Sure, he took a $2M bribe, but he enabled the city to rake in many multiples of that. WIN WIN.

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