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Chicago’s red light ticket camera saga takes new turn into corruption

By   /   August 14, 2014  /   News  /   Comments Off on Chicago’s red light ticket camera saga takes new turn into corruption

CHICAGO — Officials involved in Chicago’s red light camera program are facing corruption charges after a federal investigation revealed there may have been preferential treatment during the city’s bidding process.

On Wednesday, the Chicago division of the U.S. Attorney’s office announced Karen Finley, former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. and several other company employees, as well as John Bills — the official who acted as the liaison between Reflex and city management — are being charged with 23 counts of corruption, including bribery. Redflex Traffic Systems was used by the City of Chicago to monitor its red light camera program.

A federal investigation alleges that Reflex bribed Bills with nearly $600,000 in cash in return for preferential contract treatment over other bidding companies.

Bills served on the red light camera contract evaluation committee and was the managing deputy commissioner of the city’s transportation department when he retired after 32 years of city employment in 2011.

According to the FBI’s report, Finley and Redflex provided hotel rooms, meals, golf outings and approximately $570,00 in cash and checks in exchange for Bills’ inside information and committee sway on matters of company contracts with the city.

“Today’s indictment underscores our commitment to work in a collaborative effort to promote honest and ethical government at all levels and to prosecute those who allegedly violated the public’s trust,” said Robert J. Holley is the special-agent in charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Red light ticket cameras are big business in Chicago, a city that has the largest camera program in the United States. Redflex’s Chicago contracts total $124 million.

INN reported in July that the red light camera system in Chicago was already the topic of intense discussion, as certain intersections’ cameras were found to give out a disproportionate amount of tickets, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city would investigate the matter and potentially issue refunds for unwarranted citations.

The quantity of unwarranted tickets sparked public outcry over an already unpopular program, and Emanuel was forced to announce a reexamination of the system.

“If any of the 9,000 are wrong, they’re going to get a refund because they deserve it,” the mayor said in a statement. “There should be no inequity in the system. There should be no aberration. Even though it’s a small percentage – less than one percent – it has to be 100 percent right for there to be trust.”

INN’s earlier story also noted several traffic studies seemed to prove red light ticket cameras don’t result in a net increase in traffic safety.

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, a former sheriff, noted his skepticism of the benefits of the cameras, and called the system “flawed and fraught with inaccuracies.” He also said that if the city were being honest, “It’s not about safety anyway, it’s all about revenue.”

Finley and Bills are being indicted on nine counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, three counts of federal program bribery, and one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

Bills is also being charged with tax fraud, as the FBI believes he kept the income received from the alleged bribe off his 2008, 2009, and 2011 tax forms.

Independent contractor Martin O’Malley of Worth is also being indicted, and is alleged to have been the middle-man through which Finley and Bills funneled the bribe money.

The arraignment date has yet to be determined by the U.S. District Court in Chicago.