After a federal jury found him guilty on 20 charges, John Bills an ex-Chicago official will get up to 10 years of jail time in a red-light camera bribery case. He was also found guilty of tax, mail, and wire fraud, extortion, and conspiracy.
Bills was convicted for getting $2 million from an Arizona-based red-light camera manufacturer to allow it to sign tens of millions worth of contracts with the City Hall. He’s maximum combined sentence was about 304 years behind bars last spring.
The idea to dot the city with cameras that would film and take a snapshot of red-light violators, who would next be fined through mail, belongs to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who proposed it more than 14 years ago.
The system worked perfectly – in more than a decade, the cameras hiked City Hall’s budget by $600 million. But the way the contract was awarded was muddy. Apparently, with Bills’ help, Redflex Traffic Systems became the sole contractor for the cameras in Chicago. According to court documents, Bills cashed in up to $2,000 per camera. Chicago currently has more than 380 red-light cams.
The federal investigation revealed important details about the bribes and contracts. But there are rumors that other state officials might be involved. Two years ago, Bills’ lawyers said that their client is under a lot of pressure from the FBI to unveil the names of his accomplices.
Federal investigators found that Bills pulled some strings at the highest levels of the government. He was in talks with House Speaker Michael Madigan and former Chicago Mayor Daley. Plus, he instructed Redflex on how to apply lobby pressure and whom to hire to convince Daley and Madigan.
Nevertheless, none of those officials were called to testified during trial. Prosecution didn’t name any other accomplices. So, this may mean that defense’s argument that there were people more powerful than Bills who had received big cash from Redflex lobbyists holds no water.
On Tuesday, prosecution thanked Chicago Tribune investigative reporters for digging into the corruption case and exposing Bills in 2012. Still, there may be more crooked elected officials that engage in various schemes and funnel taxpayer money to their partners in crime’s pockets.
For instance, a Redflex representative told federal investigators about another corrupted City Hall official that reportedly has helped an engineering firm to grab an important contract. The Redflex official said Bills had told him about that other scheme.
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