CHICAGO (CBS) — A former top city official has been convicted of all charges accusing him of taking up to $2 million in bribes and illicit gifts in exchange for steering more than $100 million in red light camera contracts to an Arizona firm.
John Bills, 54, was once the second in command of the Chicago Department of Transportation. He was accused of fixing a key vote to secure the initial deal for Redflex Traffic Systems in 2003. He allegedly accepted cash bribes, hotel stays, vacations, and sports tickets, and other lavish gifts in exchange for helping Redflex.
A jury convicted Bills of 20 counts of bribery, extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy.
Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty last summer to funneling bribes to Bills through his friend, Martin O’Malley, who also has pleaded guilty in the case.
Redflex collected at least $124 million from city contracts before the city gave it the boot.
The city 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.
U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon personally prosecuted the case that produced the conviction.
“My view is that public corruption is a disease and that where public officials violate the public trust, we have to hold them accountable,” Fardon said.
After a two week trial, it took a jury less than a day of deliberations to convict him. Former Hinsdale Village President Mike Woerner was one of the jurors.
“You hope it sends a message but it really hasn’t happened in Illinois, has it?” Woerner said.
Bills was a precinct captain in the 13th Ward patronage army of House Speaker Mike Madigan and rose from fixing street lamps to number two man in the city’s Transportation Department. His defense attorney Nishay Sanan promised an appeal, calling Bills a fall guy.
“We’re going to try to prove that he couldn’t have done this, nor did he do this and that the money went elsewhere,” Sanan said.
A question jurors also pondered.
“I think there’s a lot of corruption that was not on trial today, is where my thoughts go, like where does this lead?” Woerner said.
His defense said bills has worked delivering pizzas and as a security guard after the scandal was exposed by the Chicago Tribune, and he couldn’t mastermind a deal like this by himself.
Bills’ sentencing has been scheduled for May 5.