Shocking: Red Light Camera Company CEO And Chicago City Official Indicted On Corruption Charges
from the the-chicago-way dept
We’ve long-argued that red light cameras, those little flashy things that ticket you for going through a stop light, have always been way less about safety and almost entirely about generating revenue for municipalities. And, while we’ve covered how corrupted the money-flow of these systems can be, you just have to admire the brazenly “Chicago-way” story of how the windy city got into bed with camera peddlers.
The former chief executive officer of Redflex, a major red light camera (RLC) vendor, has been indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a contract with the City of Chicago. On Wednesday, in addition to former CEO Karen Finley, government prosecutors also indicted John Bills, former managing deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, and Bills’ friend Martin O’Malley, who was hired as a contractor by Redflex.
Now, I can tell you as a native of the area that city officials getting indicted on corruption charges along with the company bribers barely registers as news here any longer. Hell, we send governors to prison like it was the official retirement plan for the office. The charges in this indictment, however, are a special brand of sleazy. Redflex sold the city on the cameras, hired O’Malley as a contractor for $2 million dollars, and O’Malley then sent much of that cash directly back to DoT official John Bills, like some kind of monetary boomerang. Redflex then got into the act directly, because why the hell not.
Via Redflex employees, Bills also acquired a Mercedes and a condominium in Arizona. A May 2014 affidavit written by an FBI special agent suggests that Bills likely used some of this money to purchase and store a boat, buy a car, pay for an addition to his Michigan cabin, pay for his girlfriend’s mortgage, pay his own mortgage, pay his kids’ schools, and hire a divorce attorney over the course of several years.
To be fair to Bills, it costs a lot of money to keep your side-piece living happily while you divorce the mother of your children and update that sweet cabin-pad. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Redflex employees sent Bills on a couple of vacations over half a decade, and by “couple” I mean seventeen. This all adds up to 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery, and some additional charges thrown in because screw these guys. And it’s not as though these stupid cameras all this corruption paid for actually, you know, worked. The Chicago Tribune‘s reporting indicates that something like 13,000 bogus tickets were issued to city residents via Redflex cameras, which were dropped in 2013 due in part to this scandal.
But, hey, don’t worry, guys. Redflex is all over this problem.
“Last year we announced aggressive leadership changes, industry leading compliance policies and procedures, and a distinction between our past and present,” Jody Ryan, a spokeswoman, wrote to Ars. “Redflex Traffic Systems is moving forward. Since we announced these changes we have signed, renewed, or executed over 100 contracts. Redflex has cooperated fully with the investigative authorities while maintaining the integrity of our customer programs. Our focus is on making a life-saving difference in the communities we serve across the country.”
Except their cameras don’t do any of that and nobody is going to trust anything coming from the company or city officials about the effectiveness of the cameras, either, what with the details on how the Chicago bid was won by Redflex being revealed. It turns out that Bills actually coached Redflex on how to win the bid, rigged the voting order so that members of the evaluation committee Bills had convinced to vote for Redflex would vote first (indicating broad support to other members), and then had the company hire his buddy, O’Malley, as the Chicago account manager for Redflex.
When it comes to Chicago politics, contracts, and the like, this is as Chicago as it gets. However, given that the whole red light camera thing is a money-making scheme to begin with, the whole concept reeks of corruption. Kill these things off now, please.