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City Official John Bills Guilty of Corruption in Red-Light-Camera Bribery

By Ted Cox | January 26, 2016 3:33pm | Updated on January 27, 2016 10:15am
 U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said the verdict offered a lesson for anyone pondering city corruption.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said the verdict offered a lesson for anyone pondering city corruption.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — A former Chicago Department of Transportation official was found guilty Tuesday of taking bribes from the city's former red-light-camera vendor in exchange for lucrative contracts. 

John Bills, 54, faced 20 charges ranging from mail fraud to bribery, and a jury found him guilty on all counts. 

"My view is that public corruption is a disease, and that when public officials violate the public trust we have to hold them accountable," said U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, who took an active role in prosecuting the case. "It sends a deterrent message, the right message, to public officials who might be tempted from time to time to go down the wrong path."

Controversy engulfed the city's red-light-camera vendor Redflex three years ago, after a series of Tribune stories revealed a company representative had improperly paid for luxury hotel accommodations, travel and tickets to sporting events for Bills, a former CDOT deputy commissioner who oversaw the program.

That led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to eliminate Redflex from bidding on the nascent speed-camera project and to cancel the existing deal with Redflex on red-light cameras.

A Redflex "bagman" testified in the case that he paid $560,000 to Bills to grease the wheels for various parts of the contract at various junctures, with total value of all the perks delivered to Bills estimated as high as $2 million. Yet Bills' attorney called him a "fall guy," suggested higher-ranked officials were involved and said it was all part of the "Chicago Way."

Fardon, however, discounted that after the jury reached a verdict at midday Tuesday after less than a full day of deliberations.

"I don't know about the Chicago Way," Fardon said, calling it a "grandiose" defense argument.

"I love the City of Chicago," he added. "I don't think corruption is unique to the City of Chicago."

Fardon said, "We simply cannot abide public officials or governments violating the public trust for personal gain."

Fardon credited the city's Inspector General Joe Ferguson with laying the groundwork for the successful prosecution.

"They're where the rubber meets the road," Fardon said. "They're the ones who do the hard work."

Judge Virginia Kendall set sentencing for May 5. Even Fardon said he wasn't sure what the maximum sentence might be for the 20 guilty counts of various forms of corruption, although his office later added Bills faces a maximum combined sentence of 304 years in prison. The bribery count alone allowed a 10-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $250,000.

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