Feds request at least 10 years in prison for center of red-light-camera scandal

UPDATE: John Bills was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Aug. 29 for his role in orchestrating Chicago’s red-light-camera program while taking bribes from Redflex Traffic Systems Inc.

Federal prosecutors on Aug. 15 asked U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to consider a 10-year sentence “as a floor” for John Bills, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bills was convicted of 20 counts of fraud, extortion and other crimes in January for his role in steering a lucrative red-light-camera contract toward Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. In return, he received $600,000 in cash, an Arizona condo and other kickbacks from the company. He was formerly the second-in-command at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Beyond securing $131 million in red-light-camera contracts for Redflex between 2002 and 2011, Bills appeared to do everything in his power to ensure favorable terms for Redflex while expanding the company’s presence in Chicago government.

In doing so, he worked with one of the most powerful politicians in the state, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

The admitted bagman for Bills’ scheme with Redflex, Martin O’Malley, testified that Bills ordered him to give $5,500 to Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Bills was a top-performing precinct captain for Madigan’s ward operation for decades. And he 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 Tribune.

Not only did Bills help Redflex buy its way into the city’s red-light-camera business, but he also worked to expand Redflex’s presence in Chicago to include speed cameras and stop-sign enforcement.

Federal prosecutors’ evidence showed Bills met with Madigan to discuss speed cameras.

In April 2010, O’Malley sent an email highlighting Bills’ efforts: “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. Former Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 965 into law Feb. 6, 2012.

Madigan’s fingerprints 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.

Prosecutors do not allege improper behavior by Madigan. But his involvement in Bills’ scheming is a case study in how entrenched political gatekeepers run the show in Illinois.

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