Feds: Ex-City Hall official took bribes in red-light camera prog

Feds: Ex-City Hall official took bribes in red-light camera program

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - A retired City Hall official took huge bribes, including an Arizona condo and a used Mercedes, to steer Chicago’s lucrative red light camera contract to a since-fired firm, the feds say.

John Bills, 52, ran the red light program for nearly a decade and took bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to steer $124 million in city contracts to Australian-owned Redflex Traffic Systems, a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday alleges.

The bribes allegedly included a $177,000 condo, cash handouts and a retirement party for Bills, who visited the condo with his family more than 20 times, the Sun-Times is reporting.

"John denies ever taking a bribe from anybody," said Nishay Sanan, the lawyer for Bills.

Bills worked for the city for 32 years before retiring as managing deputy commissioner of the Dept. of Transportation. In addition to managing the red light program, he served as a member of the contract evaluation committee.

An unnamed pal who worked as a consultant to Redflex funneled the payments to him, it’s alleged.

Chicago first awarded a contract to Redflex in 2003 for installation, maintenance and operation of the city’s red light program, which uses cameras to automatically record and ticket drivers who ran red lights.

Between 2004 and 2008, the city paid Redflex approximately $25 million under this contract, and Redflex installed and maintained 136 camera systems in Chicago intersections, and assisted in reviewing and processing violations, according to an FBI affidavit.

In 2008, the city awarded a new, non-competitive contract to Redflex to operate and maintain the previously installed 136 camera systems, and paid Redflex approximately $33 million under that contract.

It also awarded a new contract to Redflex that was similar to the first, worth $66 million, which added another 248 red light cameras, bringing the total number of Redflex cameras to 384 and the total amount the city has paid Redflex to approximately $124 million.

By 2010, Chicago had the largest red light camera program in the United States, representing 20 percent of the total camera systems that Redflex operated nationwide, the feds say.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Redflex and banned it from future contracts last year.

A cooperating witness who worked for Redflex helped the FBI build the case.

The mole paid for a hotel room for Bills after Bills sought a bribe in 2003, its alleged. Bills then sought a job at Redflex, but was instead hired at another firm to give Redflex cover for the bribe, the complaint states.

Working through Bill’s unnamed pal, Redflex bought him the Arizona condo in 2008, and paid for a $12,5000 Mercedes, it’s alleged.

Bills is due to make an initial appearance in court Wednesday afternoon.

The investigation by the FBI, the IRS and Chicago’s Inspector General is ongoing, authorities say.

Redflex issued a statement saying it "fully cooperated" with investigators and has now drawn "a line between our past and today's Redflex."

Redflex’s own internal investigation concluded in 2013 that Redflex paid to send Bills to the Super Bowl and other sporting events, and allegedly concealed those favors from the city.

Former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin was hired by Reflex to investigate the company’s relationship with Bills, as well as Redflex’s decision to pay Bills’ associate more than $500,000 in commissions.

Sanan did not deny that Bills received "gifts" from the Redflex agent. But he insisted Bills had little influence over the final contract award to Redflex.

"He didn't have the power within the City of Chicago to direct any contract to anybody. He was on the evaluation team. It went before a board in 2003 where seven people had to vote. He was only one of those votes," added Sanan.

FOX 32's Mike Flannery contributed to this report.

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