Ex-Chicago Official Sentenced in Red-Light Camera Case

A former Chicago transportation official was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he was convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to steer more than $100 million in red-light camera contracts to an Arizona-based company. 

The one-time number two official in the city's transportation department, John Bills, was sentenced Monday in Chicago by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall. Federal prosecutors sought a prison sentence of at least 10 years, but Bills' attorney, Nishay Sanan, had asked for a three- or four-year sentence.

Bills accepted responsibility for the corruption and apologized in court saying, "I have disgraced myself and my loved ones immensely." 

Bills was convicted in January of more than 20 counts of bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion for accepting what prosecutors say was "buckets and buckets of cash" from Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the Phoenix-based company that implemented Chicago's first red light camera program. A jury found him guilty on all counts.

"This was not a momentary lapse of judgement," U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon said in court Monday. "It was a decades-long scheme to defraud taxpayers."

Authorities alleged Bills fixed a key commission vote to secure an initial deal for Redflex around 2003. Chicago signed other contracts later as it expanded its red-light enforcement program. Much-vilified by drivers, the program uses cameras to automatically record and ticket drivers who run red lights.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled Redflex's contract in 2013 following the Chicago Tribune's reports of the alleged bribery scheme. Bills retired from his job as the city's managing deputy commissioner of transportation in 2011, and he was charged in 2014.

The feds called Bills a “greedy public official” who reaped an “almost nonstop flow of benefits” by helping Redflex cheat its way into $131 million in city contracts between 2002 and 2011.

Redflex retiree Martin O'Malley pleaded guilty to his role in the bribery conspiracy along with former Redflex CEO Karen Finely.

But Bills' attorney said his client had nowhere near the power the government gives him credit for.

“A guy like John Bills cannot sell a $100 million contract to anybody,” Sanan said. “He does not have that power, influence or control.”

Instead, he said Bills is being scapegoated for corruption at a higher level.

“There was no bribes to John Bills,” Sanan said. “I am not saying there's no bribes in this case. There was no benefit to John Bills. There was no cash, gifts, hotel rooms. It doesn't matter what the government says, none of it went to John Bills.”

Still, federal authorities point to thousands of documents and checks that they say implicated Bills at the expense of taxpayers.

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