CHICAGO (CBS) — A former city official has been arrested for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to steer $124 million worth of red light camera contracts to a company that has since been booted from the program.
John Bills, 52, was arrested on a charge of bribery, and appeared before a federal magistrate Wednesday afternoon.
Bills posted bond and left the Dirsken Federal building without comment. Prosecutors say he received cash and checks along with that condo in Arizona, which is worth $177,000.
Bills, who retired three years ago as a top executive at the Chicago Department of Transportation after 32 years with the city, allegedly received more than $643,000 in cash and checks from a friend who worked as a consultant for Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., and was paid $2 million for his work helping the company get a city contract to run the city’s red light cameras.
The unnamed friend also allegedly bought Bills a $177,000 condo in Arizona, helped him repay loans, and paid for two different parties — including his retirement party.
In exchange, Bills helped Redflex secure $124 million in city contracts to Redflex to install and operate red light cameras in Chicago. Redflex ran the city’s red light cameras from 2003 to 2013. In the first five years, it made approximately $25 million, according to prosecutors. After the contract was renewed in 2008, it was paid an additional $33 million to continue operating the existing 136 cameras, and another $66 million to install and operate 248 more.
Bills’ attorney said his client was merely one member of a board that selected RedFlex and that essentially, Bills had little authority to select the business when the contract was first awarded 11 years ago.
“He didn’t have the power within the City of Chicago to direct any contract to anybody,” said attorney Nishay Sanan. “He was on an evaluation team, it went before a board 2003 where seven people had to vote. He was only one of those votes 24. In 2007, when Redflex’s contract got renewed, he did not have voting power.”
Attorney Nishay Sanan said prosecutors are putting the squeeze on Bills, trying to get him to testify against RedFlex, which has been accused of giving government officials across the country cash gifts to get business.
In 2012, the city barred Redflex from bidding on a new red light camera contract, after the Chicago Tribune reported it paid a luxury hotel bill for Bills.
Redflex has since been replaced by Xerox, under a new contract the city has said will save taxpayers $50 million.
The city had been paying Redflex up to $4,300 per month per camera, but Xerox is charging only about $1,800 per camera per month. The five-year deal — reached last October — is expected to save $10 million each year.
Mike Brockway with the watch dog group the Expired Meter has questioned red light cameras for years.
“I think it destroys any remaining credibility in the red light camera program,” said Brockway.
RedFlex did not respond to questions from CBS 2 on Wednesday.