John Bills, a former Chicago transportation official now at the center of one of the biggest corruption scandals in city history, is alleged to have had meetings regarding speed cameras and red-light cameras with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, respectively, in new documents submitted by federal prosecutors.
Bills was indicted on corruption charges in August 2014 for helping Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. win and maintain Chicago city contracts for its red-light camera system in exchange for over $600,000 in cash, an Arizona condo and other kickbacks from the company. Red-light cameras have generated more than $500 million in ticket revenue for city government.
Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to conspiracy in August 2015 for her role in orchestrating the scheme.
Evidence indicates Bills, who ran the city’s red-light camera program from its inception in 2002 until his retirement in 2011, was valued in part for his connections with Daley and Madigan.
In 2003, Redflex Vice President of Sales and Marketing Aaron Rosenberg sent an email saying that Bills “has already told me that he primed Mayor Daley that Redflex has the best system on the market – bar none.”
At the time, Redflex was gearing up to compete against Affiliated Computer Services Inc. in a pilot program to determine which company would receive the inaugural city contract for red-light cameras.
During the pilot program, Bills provided inside information to Redflex on the bidding process, authored a biased evaluation of results in Redflex’s favor, cherry-picked photographs of Redflex’s equipment working well and its competitor’s working poorly, and even went so far as to organize the evaluation committee’s seating chart to ensure members voting in favor of Redflex voted first in order to influence other members’ votes, according to evidence submitted by federal prosecutors.
Bills succeeded, as the evaluation committee on which he sat as a voting member awarded the contract to Redflex on May 27, 2003, with a unanimous vote.
One month later, prosecutors allege, Bills met with Redflex executives to negotiate payment for his services.
In the years following Redflex’s first Chicago contract, it appears Bills did everything in his power to ensure favorable terms for Redflex while expanding the company’s presence in Chicago government.
How does one secure political influence? In Illinois, the answer is simple: Mike Madigan.
Bills had been a top-earning precinct captain for Madigan’s 13th Ward political organization for decades, and began his career in Chicago’s Bureau of Electricity, “dubbed ‘Madigan Electric’ due to the number of 13th Ward loyalists employed there,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Not only did Bills help rig the public bidding process to ensure three red-light-camera contracts costing the city an estimated $131 million flowed to Redflex, he also worked to expand Redflex’s presence in Chicago to include speed cameras and stop-sign enforcement.
Federal prosecutors’ evidence shows Bills met with Madigan to discuss speed cameras.
In April 2010, Martin O’Malley – an independent contractor who worked for Redflex from 2003 to 2012 and delivered thousands of dollars in payments to Bills, and who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy – sent an email to Rosenberg highlighting Bills' efforts to put Redflex at the forefront of discussions about speed cameras, writing: “JB has talked to Speaker of the house Matigan [sic] about Speed. Time for you to have private meeting & presentation!!!”
Less than a year later, Madigan sponsored state legislation allowing speed cameras in Chicago. And despite receiving hundreds of requests pleading for a veto of the bill, former Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 965 into law on Feb. 6, 2012.
Madigan’s footprints don’t end there.
In April 2007, Bills advised Redflex CEO Karen Finley to hire Bill Filan as a lobbyist in order to maintain a strong political presence in Chicago. Finley noted that Bills said Filan “came up w/ Madigan,” and had a “good relat[ionship] w/ Madigan,” as well as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Finley hired Filan later that year, along with two other lobbyists that Redflex officials collectively referred to as “the three horsemen.”
While prosecutors do not allege improper behavior by Madigan or Daley, it’s clear Bills thought it necessary to speak with these gatekeepers while carrying out nefarious acts.
Judging by Bills’ success in fleecing taxpayers on behalf of Redflex, such thinking seems warranted.
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