CHICAGO — A Lincoln Park man filed a federal class-action lawsuit Thursday seeking to recover the tens of millions of dollars Redflex Traffic Systems made while it was the city's red-light camera vendor from 2003 until early this year.
Matthew Falkner, who received a red-light ticket for $100 in January 2013, alleges in the suit that Redflex was only able to generate more than $100 million in revenue over the last 11 years because it had bribed a city official to get the contract.
The lawsuit alleges a former employee of Redflex blew the whistle on an improper relationship between the company and a Chicago Department of Transportation official in charge of the red-light camera program and that bribes given to that city official helped secure the city's contract for Redflex.
That employee, John Bills, who no longer works for the city, recently was charged with bribery by the federal government in connection with the Redflex deal. The U.S. Attorney's Office claims Bills received close to $600,000 in cash, gifts, cars, travel and a $177,000 condominium.
The class-action lawsuit claims that 20 percent to 25 percent of each $100 fine paid for a red-light camera violation went into Redflex's pockets. The lawsuit argues that these "ill-gotten gains" should be returned to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who paid their fines.
Falkner's lawsuit needs a judge's approval to proceed.
The scandal surrounding Redflex came to light in 2012 after the Tribune ran a series of articles on the red-light contract after a former employee shared internal company documents with the newspaper.
The allegations surfaced at the same time the city was seeking bids to run its new speed camera enforcement program and as the red-light camera contract was being re-bid.
After the revelations were made public, Mayor Rahm Emanuel banned Redflex from bidding on either the speed camera or the red-light camera contracts. The last Redflex camera was turned off in February, but by then the company had been paid $125 million.
On Friday, the Tribune reported thousands of tickets may have been issued in error, raising questions about the management of the surveillance system.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the city "absolutely" give refunds and amnesty for "erroneous tickets."
"This was never intended to be a moneymaking machine," he said.
Chicago's red-light camera program is the nation's largest, with 352 cameras at 174 intersections. The program has generated nearly $600 million since its inception in 2003.
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