John Bills walked out of the federal courthouse Monday knowing that his fate is in a jury's hands.
The one-time number two official in the city's transportation department is facing more than 20 counts of bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion for accepting what prosecutors say was "buckets and buckets of cash" from Redflex, the Arizona-based company that implemented Chicago's first red light camera program.
In court, U.S. attorney Zachary Fardon showed jurors a photo of the Mercedes convertible Bills allegedly bought with the Redflex money and an Arizona condo the government says the company provided for the man who oversaw the city's photo enforcement program.
"He used and abused and exploited the power to stuff his own pockets," Fardon said.
The feds call 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,” defense attorney Nishay 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 implicate Bills at the expense of taxpayers
"Redflex paid for it all, but ask yourself who really paid,” Fardon told the jury.
“He did the job he was tasked to do, and he did it in order for the city of Chicago to generate over $400 million in revenue,” Sanan said.
On Monday, the mayor distanced himself from the original photo enforcement program.
“The contract that was awarded that you were talking about was awarded during a prior and different administration,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in response to a question about the program. “First questions they were thrown out, a different firm was brought in.”
Chicago awarded its first contract to Redflex in 2003 and signed others 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.
That program has proven widely unpopular with residents, and Bills' attorney worries that may have an impact on the jury's verdict.
“We are very concerned about that. Back when this case was started, we asked for this case to be moved to Las Vegas where there are no red light cameras,” Sanan said. “There are red light cameras all over this country. In the back of people's minds, that is going to be a factor in how they go with this."