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City To Get $20M From Red-Light Camera Firm That Bribed Official: Mayor

By Heather Cherone | February 6, 2017 10:25am | Updated on February 6, 2017 12:09pm
 A sign warns drivers of red-light camera enforcement at Foster Avenue and Broadway.
A sign warns drivers of red-light camera enforcement at Foster Avenue and Broadway.
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CHICAGO — The company that installed red-light cameras at hundreds of intersections will pay Chicago $20 million to settle a lawsuit that alleges the contract was obtained by bribing city officials.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, originally demanded $300 million from Redflex Traffic Systems.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the funds from the settlement will be used to improve "the lives of our residents."

“The City of Chicago will not stand by while a company takes advantage of our taxpayers, and I hope that this serves as a warning to other companies that do business or hope to business with the City that we will hold those who try to take advantage of taxpayers accountable,” Emanuel said.

The red-light camera program began in 2003 under former Mayor Richard Daley. Emanuel terminated the contract with Redflex — which created the largest network of traffic light enforcement cameras in the nation — after the wrongdoing came to light.

The settlement will be paid over the next six years, with $5 million to be paid within 45 days and another $5 million due by Dec. 31. In 2018 and 2019, the firm will pay $1 million each year; $1.5 million will be paid in 2020 and 2021, and $2.5 million will be paid in 2022 and 2023.

The Department of Justice announced last month that it would not file charges against the firm. That decision came after Redflex conducted an internal investigation, shared the results with the government and fired those employees who engaged in wrongdoing, according to a statement from the company Monday.

"Today marks a new beginning for Redflex," said RedFlex CEO Michael Finn.

The cameras — now operated by Xerox — generate about $70 million in fines annually for the city. Emanuel has defended the cameras as necessary to enforce traffic laws and protect pedestrians.

John Bills, the city official charged with overseeing the implementation of the program, was convicted of taking bribes from Redflex and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A city employee for 32 years, Bills was the No. 2 official in the city's Transportation Department. An investigation by the Tribune that led to a series of stories revealed a company representative had improperly paid for luxury hotel accommodations, travel and tickets to sporting events for Bills.

Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to funneling $680,000 in bribes to Bills. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The city paid the Arizona-based firm $124 million as part of the contract.

The cameras became a major issue in the 2015 mayoral race, with Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia vowing to remove all the red-light cameras if elected.

A few days after Garcia's announcement, Emanuel announced he would remove 50 cameras at 25 intersections and give red-light violators a chance to attend traffic school in lieu of paying $100 for a first violation.

In all, Emanuel has removed 78 red-light cameras at 39 intersections since taking office, leaving 306 red-light cameras at 151 intersections.