A trial is set to begin for a former Chicago transportation official accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to steer more than $100 million in red-light camera contracts to a Phoenix-based company.
Jury selection in John Bills' trial was set to begin Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Chicago U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon will be among the trial prosecutors.
Bills is accused of fixing a key commission vote to secure an initial deal for Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. around 2003. It signed others later for Chicago's first red-light enforcement program. Prosecutors say Bills, 54, accepted hotel stays, vacations, sports tickets and cash bribes.
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.
Bills faces multiple corruption counts, including bribery and extortion. Defense attorney Nishay Sanan said Bills is "a scapegoat," and Bills has denied the charges.
"From the day he was first arrested they have always wanted him to cooperate and give them names of people further up the food chain," Sanan said. "His answer has always been that he didn't do it and there is no food chain."
Sanan said Bills didn't have the authority or political power to orchestrate such a scheme. The defense, Sanan said, will focus mostly on the credibility of witnesses who have cut cooperation deals, and that authorities haven't been able to track down most of the riches Bills is accused of accumulating.
Former Redflex executive Karen Finley has pleaded guilty to related charges. She's scheduled for sentencing this year, and is among those on the prosecution witness list in Bills' trial.